Poet Jillian Weise speaks at Toledo about disability rights

September 27, 2016


Students and faculty filled the Canady Center in Carlson Library Sept. 19 to listen to Dr. Jillian Weise perform her award winning poems in an event hosted by UT Disability Studies Program.


Weise presented her poems, including “Poem for his Ex,” “I Own a Gun,” “I Had a Little Cash” and “Future Biometrics.” Weise said her poem “I Own a Gun” is written about why she owns a gun — she had a stalker.


“We poets don’t agree with violence,” Wiese said. “I agree, but when it comes to my own personal safety, I felt like I needed a gun.”


In addition to presenting her personal narratives, Weise also talked to the audience about what it means to be a ‘cyborg’. Weise is an amputee: she had an above-the-knee amputation as the result of a birth defect.


“I identify as disabled, obviously, but also as cyborg, which means I have a computerized part of my body,” she said.

Weise said she is always in communication with her leg, joking that her leg was only compatible with Androids, which made her upset because she could not have an iPhone.


Poetry isn’t the only passion for Weiss. She is taking her own experience with disability discrimination and turning it into something for everyone to see. Weise has been working on an 18-episode video series project called “Tipsy Tullivan.” In this series,  Weise plays Tipsy Tullivan, a southern college sorority girl who is an ableist.


“Ableism is everywhere,” Weise said. “There is no cure.”


Ableism is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. According to StopAbleism.org, this is a set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value or worth to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities. Weise said having a disabled person play an ableist will be eye opening to the viewers.


“I would like to see in any form of media, someone who is disabled play a non-disabled person,” Weise said. “That’s what I am doing with Tipsy.”


Weise said the inspiration for Tipsy Tullivan came out of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference that she attended with Jim Ferris, professor and chair of disability studies at UT.


According to Ferris, the AWP conference has become less racist, sexist and hopefully will become less ableist.


“The AWP conference rejected all disability writers — everything about it,” Ferris said. “Now the

Weise hopes that poems regarding disability become more acknowledged within the poetic society. She has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Fulbright Program and the Lannan Foundation.

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