Last month, student affairs professionals from across the globe gathered in Indianapolis for the 2016 Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) Conference. As one of my dear mentors likes to say about the AHEAD conference: it feels like coming home. The conference sparked lots of great idea-sharing and conversation-starting. I’ll share a few of those ideas with you in this article. I believe these ideas can benefit not only those of us who work in disability services, but all student affairs professionals.
Past AHEAD President Bae Awoniyi started out the conference by putting voice to our collective pain, grief, and frustration over the tragic events this summer. Her remarks served to remind us that disability services—a field dedicated to advancing the civil rights of students with disabilities—is firmly rooted in social justice. While many of our roles on campus may not be directly related to a particular identity group or direct social action, there are always ways in which we can learn from and support one another in advancing this good work. Consider working with a colleague to facilitate an event on campus. Start conversations in your own spheres of influence, and continue to educate yourself on social justice issues.
Adam Meyer, Director of Student Accessibility Services at the University of Central Florida, encouraged us to consider an emotional reaction. The gut feeling that students and faculty have to our offices, and how those feelings shape their interactions with us. Whether it’s McDonald’s, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Student Activities, or Disability Services, every organization has a unique brand. These brands generate a behavior-influencing emotion in its target audience. Adam tells us that the trick is to be intentional with our office brand. Focus on identifying your office’s core purpose and values, and shape your branding elements (office name, tag line, mission statement, website content, customer service approach, etc.) to match.
Many of us acknowledge that the graduate student experience is different from the undergraduate experience in a lot of ways. It follows, then, that the needs of graduate students are also going to be different. But how intentional are we to shape our services and programs to work for graduate students? Do we instead try to have graduate students fit the undergraduate services mold, square-peg-round-hole style? Felicia Peck and Rick Gubash’s presentation on the Disability Resource Center’s graduate student outreach at UC Santa Cruz reminds us that for graduate students, the non-standard is standard. Flexibility and creativity in services and programs to meet their needs is crucial.
And that’s just a small sample of the AHEAD Conference. I invite all those interested to attend the 2017 AHEAD Conference next year in Orlando. Also consider getting involved in your local AHEAD affiliate. Learn more about disability and higher education through AHEAD’s online resources at https://www.ahead.org/.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dr. Monica Fochtman on MBTI & Conferences