The Office of Services for Students with Disabilities continued a yearlong celebration of 40 years of service with an all-day conference Friday at the Hatcher Graduate Library. The conference, which was attended mostly by faculty and staff, included several keynote speakers and a discussion panel composed of students with disabilities.
Since the office opened in 1974, it has helped students with disabilities achieve success by providing accommodations and services including academic and transportation accommodations, peer mentoring programs, assistive technology and free skill tutoring. According to the office’s annual report, 5.1 percent of the student population is registered with the office, with learning disabilities listed as the most common category.
The 40th anniversary celebration lasted for most of 2014 and included events each month designed to increase awareness of disabilities on campus. One program focused on navigating graduate school with a disability and another promoted ADHD awareness.
The conference featured a panel of three students who receive accommodations through SSD. Public Health student Surabhi Rajaram, Social Work student Lloyd Shelton and LSA senior Jeremiah Whittington each discussed their experiences as University students living with disabilities and the ways in which the office impacts them.
The panelists said having the SSD community is helpful, along with the support groups it offers through which they can interact with other students with disabilities, but they also noted that more can be done to make the University an inclusive environment for those with disabilities.
Whittington said it is often difficult to reach out to students with disabilities and encourage them to get involved in support groups because of the stigma that can come with being labeled as disabled. Beyond the stigma that makes it difficult to involve students with available support groups, Whittington said having a disability also impacts the way he interacts with others.
“Being a native stutterer, it really just forces you to choose your words in a certain type of way,” he said.
Shelton added that, like race, having a disability is another aspect of identity that can be marginalizing and can add another layer of difficulty to his life.
“The more identities we have that are different from the norm, the more energy we have to exert,” Shelton said. “The further you differentiate from that profile of white, male, able-bodied, straight … the harder you have to try.”
The conference also included remarks from Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones; E. Royster Harper, vice president for Student Life; Jack Bernard, associate general counsel and chair of the University’s Council for Disability Concerns; and Regent Katherine White, who serves as chair of the University’s Board of Regents.
The first keynote speaker, John Greden, director of the University’s Comprehensive Depression Center, said though depression is the disability that impacts the most people in the world, many people don’t view it as a disability.
Law Prof. Samuel Bagenstos gave an hour-long talk on the history of disability law and the growth of the disability movement in the United States, which was followed by a lecture on the future of mobility technology delivered by Engineering Prof. Lawrence Burns.