Reframing Disability in higher education

When I start to look into this topic, I find AHEAD, Association on Higher Education and Disability. AHEAD is the premiere professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education. Anyone that is interested in this topic should go looking at their website: https://www.ahead.org.

I found the interesting changes in the DSS office at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from the Universal Design Resources in AHEAD website. They changed their name from “Disability Support Services” to “Disability Resource Center” for four reasons. They claimed that “We want to create an image that is consistent with the other shifts we have made over the years. We are a resource to students and to the campus community and provide services to both.” “Often, in fact, our role is to assist the campus community in creating more usable and inclusive environments. When this is accomplished access for students with disabilities is seamless.” “The name “Disability Resource Center” indicates that we are a resource to students as well as other members of the campus community. Through the years we have taken on the role of providing resources and technical assistance even beyond the campus community, in both a routine and very regular way when our colleagues from other institutions call us for assistance and advice, and through programs such as PACE and PEPNet-South/Arkansas SOTAC.” Some offices are choosing names that place the focus more directly on the environment—such as Center for Educational Access or similar names. We acknowledge that these names do indeed reflect social model in that they place the responsibility for access less on the student and more on the environment. However, some proponents of name changes that remove the term “disability” argue that students steer away from their office because of that term. This is a reflection of the problems of our society and the lack of acceptance of diversity. We want to change the way people think about disability rather than shrink away from the reactions that people have to that term. We hope that through our work, our campus community will begin to see the power that goes along with that term and will embrace the rich history of the disability rights movement. We hope that they will come to see disability as an aspect of diversity that is integral to our society and to our campus community.” (http://www.ualr.edu/pace/shift/)

They also changed their mission statement from “The mission of DSS is to eliminate physical and academic barriers and to fulfill the Division of Educational and Student Services concept of assisting students in achieving their educational, career, and personal goals through the full range of institutional and community resources. In addition, the office was established to insure that students with special needs receive support services and accommodations to allow them equal access to all UALR programs, and that they have the opportunity to realize their potential” to “Providing access to a diverse student population is embedded in the philosophy of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. We recognize disability as an aspect of diversity that is integral to society and to the campus community. To this end, the Disability Resource Center collaborates with students, faculty, staff, and community members to create usable, equitable, inclusive and sustainable learning environments. We promote and facilitate awareness and access through training, partnerships, innovative programs and accommodations”. (http://www.ualr.edu/pace/shift/)

I think “creating usable, equitable, inclusive and sustainable learning environments” is the best part of their new statement, which indicated that they tried to provide disable students more equitable and sustainable learning environments, which are also the central to the concept of universal design. This also emphasis on changing the environment rather than simply responding to each student’s access request.

Since the new thinking about disability has been developed a lot over the years, we should keep the office related to this update, and keep our minds about disability fresh all the time.

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