From The Dartmouth:
Access By Leadership in Equity — a new student organization seeking to raise awareness about students with disabilities — has launched efforts to facilitate
greater campus dialogue about accessibility in its first weeks in existence, according to co-directors Emily Broas ’11 and Rebecca Gotlieb ’12.
ABLE’s goals include providing a peer-to-peer support network for students with disabilities, raising awareness about both visible and invisible disabilities, and improving College accommodations for these students by serving as a voice for the community.
“We really want to de-stigmatize the issue,” Broas said. “Raising awareness and creating a dialogue will get people to realize that ability is something that affects a good part of campus.”
ABLE is planning a Feb. 25 panel, “Disabilities and Health Issues at Dartmouth,” with the help of its advisor, Nora Yasumura, advisor to Asian and Asian-American Students, Gotlieb said. The panel will feature six students speaking about their personal experiences with disability or health-related issues.
“It won’t be Dartmouth-related or policy-oriented, it will just act as a window into what it’s like to live with a disability,” she said.
Many of ABLE’s policy-related goals were spurred by a petition submitted last spring to former Dean of the College Tom Crady. The petition was composed by a group of students advocating for accessibility improvements for students on campus.
The College’s Student Accessibility Services office has previously been subject to criticism by students, who argued that it often fails to provide appropriate accommodations or lags behind student needs, The Dartmouth reported previously. Broas was also involved in a project in the Office of Institutional Diversity
and Equity that suggested ways to enhance student accessibility, she said.
The group is also considering creating a web site geared towards helping students with disabilities navigate the College’s accessibility system, organizers said.
Broas and Gotlieb have discussed the possibility of creating a manual with tips for students faced with accommodation challenges, they said. The manual might include a review of professors’ policies regarding learning-related disabilities.
“I think that there have been fragmented efforts at confronting the issue before, but never a concerted effort,” Broas said. “We want to address disability in the broadest way possible, including health issues, learning disabilities, food allergies and mobility impairments.”
Gotlieb said she wants ABLE to be a supportive community so that “if students do not have a positive experience, or are not accommodated, they will have other students to talk to about it.”
Although no numbers are available for the percentage of Dartmouth students afflicted with some type of disabling condition, both Broas and Gotlieb emphasized the pervasiveness of “invisible” disabilities, particularly learning disorders. Both stressed that the College should accommodate the existence of any
type of disability among students.
“If one student on campus is in a wheelchair, the whole campus needs to be accommodating,” Broas said.
While ABLE is not yet recognized by the Council on Student Organizations, the co-founders said they aspire for it to be a “vehicle” for students with disabilities to voice their opinions on how the College should change to accommodate their needs.
Both Broas and Gotlieb are on the Americans with Disabilities Act 504 Committee, an arm of Dartmouth’s SAS, and have worked to evaluate where the College stands in terms of compliance with the law and other accessibility matters. Both said they hope ABLE will facilitate dialogue and sensitize the student
body at large.
“Efforts before have been restricted to people who are already aware of diversity in ability,” Broas said. “The entire community has not been given a real opportunity to join in.”
Although neither Broas nor Gotlieb said they feel that there is deliberate discrimination or stigmatization of disabilities at Dartmouth, they argued there is a distinct lack of awareness concerning the challenges that many disabled students face.
“There is a very intense culture of excellence that exists here at Dartmouth, which directly contributes to students with disabilities feeling like they should brush the issue under the rug and conform,” Broas said.
Awareness, the ABLE leaders stress, is the first step to improving the quality of life for those who are affected by disabilities.
“The most important thing that another student can do is listen and try to understand what a student with a disability or health issue is dealing with,” Gotlieb said.
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