October is here. For some of us, October means fall weather, Halloween, and pumpkin spice lattes. However, October is also disability awareness month. There is a need for students to be educated about people living with disabilities in society.
During the first week of disability awareness month, I asked students two questions:
- Do you have a moment for disability awareness?
- Why does disability matter to you?
As I’m sure you can guess, number one is a loaded question. However, I felt that by asking this question, it could inform me on how we can educate and better serve our campus community. An average college student spends about 17 hours each week preparing for classes. Outside of their classes, several students spend over 9 hours a week in sports, clubs, work, and educational activities.
Now think about number one again, what do you think were common responses?
- I have to go to class.
- Are you going to be here later?
- I do not, I have to be somewhere.
There is nothing wrong with these answers; I understand that college students are incredibly busy all the time. College is that time to get involved with as much as you can in an effort to find where your passions lie. When I started to get past those first couple responses and students started walking towards my table, that’s when number two came into play. In order to understand people’s experiences with disabilities, I first had to learn about people’s experiences and feelings towards people with disabilities. So in an effort to have the community answer number two, I challenged them to chalk their answers around our campus center.
When I asked question number two, here were some responses:
- Because, “anyone” is still your distant relative.
- Because they are people too.
- It’s part of people’s identity.
Right there in the pavement, are concrete reasons why disability awareness matters. Here are some general pieces of advice on how we can be allies for inclusion to help eliminate negative attitudes, stereotypes, and oppressive behaviors.
Please use language that focuses on the person, not the disability. We will continue to create equitable experiences on campus if we actively try to use language that emphasizes abilities rather than limitations. A disability is only one part of someone’s identity. So, do not label people by their disability.
Empower students to take the lead. Provide educational and meaningful opportunities that help meet the needs of students with disabilities. Encourage open communication and welcoming environments that challenge overlooked and often misunderstood efforts for students with disabilities.
Campus Wide Awareness
One of the biggest challenges I face with students with disabilities is that many of them are invisible. Help educate and encourage the entire campus to be better allies for inclusion. The more approachable we are, the more likely students will be comfortable openly speaking about their disabilities and their identity.
A disability is only part of a person. Intersectionality suggests that we should think of each element or trait of a person as inextricably linked with all of the other elements in order to fully understand a person’s identity. Please take a moment for people on campus with disabilities and strive to be stronger allies for inclusion.
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Podcast With Dave Kerpen on Authenticity/ Branding on Social Media