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Chester Finn, co-founder of the charity Community Empowerment Programs, talked about overcoming the judgments of others through self-advocacy at Harvard Law School on Friday.
Finn currently works with Michael A. Stein, executive director of the Law School's Project on Disability, developing storytelling projects so that people with disabilities can talk about how they make their own choices and where they fit in the world.
According to Finn, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on Disability, being visually impaired did not stop him from seeking work and social opportunities.
“Sometimes you have to go against what people say, and when it’s about your race and your freedom, you should go above that and do what’s necessary for yourself,” Finn said.
After having been rejected from a job as a cashier because of his disability, Finn said he filed a complaint with the New York Department of Human Rights and eventually won the hearing for his case.
“I can deal with a lot of the things, but the one thing I can’t deal with is when people tell you that you can’t do something because of your disability,” Finn said. “How would they know? They’re not me.”
Finn said the greatest advice he has to offer is to watch how people treat those around them and observe their actions, which he believes oftentimes reflect how they will treat you.
“You can experience things, you can see things, you can observe things sometimes without going through them,” Finn said.
Recounting his personal story, Finn said that, at the end of the day, there will be people who judge others based on their physical characteristics or even the perceptions of those around them.
“It’s what’s inside of us that’s more important,” Finn said.
Stein lauded the work Finn has done as a self-advocate while introducing Finn.
“In all those places, Chester has lent his wisdom, his smarts, his savvy to programming and work,” Stein said.
Alice Osman, a student at the Law School, said she enjoyed listening to Finn’s personal narrative.
“He was so engaging,” Osman said. “I was also impressed at how he was able to use his sense of humor well to tackle a sensitive topic and make people more aware of disability rights.”
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