Wyoming Institute for Disabilities Presents First Distinguished Alumni Award

November 18, 2019

The Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) recently awarded its first University of Wyoming, College of Health Sciences Distinguished Alumni award for a graduate of the disability studies minor to Elizabeth Cantalamessa.

Since its earliest days, WIND offered disability-related academic courses in conjunction with other University of Wyoming departments. Under the direction of Dr. Michelle Jarman, since 2008 the disability studies program has graduated 122 students with the minor from academic departments across the university. WIND was honored to have the opportunity to recognize an alum who has made significant contributions to the field.

Ms. Cantalamessa, a native of Houston, Texas, graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in philosophy and a minor in disability studies. She completed her practicum at ARK Regional Services in Laramie where she taught art and literacy to individuals with developmental disabilities. She completed her M.A. in philosophy at the University of Wyoming, teaching introductory philosophy courses at both UW and the University of Houston, before attending the University to Miami where she is finishing her Ph.D. in philosophy.

Ms. Cantalamessa's doctoral dissertation examines the relationship between language and social reality, using disability theory to argue that social movements have been instrumental in enacting changes in how we think and talk about important phenomena in the world. She is particularly interested in non-traditional education, increasing accessibility and dismantling philosophical barriers to greater accessibility.
WIND's Executive Director, Sandy Root-Elledge, in her presentation of the award said, "What identifies her as deserving of a distinguished alumni award is her leadership, at an early level, toward ‘systems change' in disability studies and within dominant frameworks in philosophy."

In her acceptance comments, Ms. Cantalamessa explained that, "Learning about the disability rights movement and the development of the social model of disability showed [her] the importance of being able to take control of [one's] own narrative, and that while the endeavor is clearly worthwhile, it will be hard fought." She added that she plans to "continue drawing inspiration from disability studies activists, theorists, and practitioners in resisting and challenging dominant narratives."