In an effort to diversify campus culture and make APU more inviting and adaptable for students who live with disabilities, diseases and conditions, The Learning Enrichment Center (LEC), University Counseling Center and The Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence have partnered to meet the needs of this population.
LEC Director Elizabeth Chamberlain said she and the center are seeking ways to provide more fairness and equity for students with disabilities.
“We try to be liaisons as well as advocates for students as much as we can,” Chamberlain said. “We want to make sure they have full access to all programs and services that will help them to be successful.”
Among other changes, the LEC is hiring a Disability Services Coordinator, a new role formerly referred to as Associate Director. Chamberlain said the name change in itself shows a commitment to serving these students, and she anticipates that the person hired will lead the LEC in workshops, provide Internet resources and help incoming students transition.
Disability Services, one of four services the LEC offers, serves over 400 students between the undergraduate, graduate and University College populations. The staff connects students with departments who can make suitable accommodations depending on their needs, which may include classroom, housing, parking, chapel or dietary restrictions.
University Counseling Center Counselor Suzannia Holden, Psy.D. said it is important for people on campus to make themselves aware of the concerns and challenges of students who have disabilities.
“Keep in mind the person’s individual needs and preferences can be learned by making the effort to get to know the whole person,” Holden said. “It is important not to ignore the disability because it is a component of who they are, but also not allow the disability to define how you view the person.”
Holden served as a panelist at a workshop entitled “Disability Awareness: Strategies to Enhance Access and Inclusion of Students with Disabilities” on Tuesday, Nov. 29 alongside Chamberlain and LEC Tutoring Coordinator Mary Mercurio Santos.
Susan Warren, Ph.D., director of diversity programs for The Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence, organized the event and said it was effective because it helped encourage attendees to be approachable, supportive, understanding and gracious toward students with disabilities.
“This work isn’t about just getting knowledge in your head,” Warren said. “You can read about diversity, but you’ve got to get to people’s hearts. You only get to that through hearing stories and discussions.”
The event featured six APU students who live with different conditions, diseases or disabilities who explained to attendees how these experiences impact their lives on and off campus.
Freshman liberal studies major Jacqueline Thomas lives with misophonia, a condition that gives her extreme sensitivity to the sight or sound of people chewing, either of which will put her into a panic attack. She shared that it has forced her to live without a roommate, avoid walking near dining venues and announce her circumstance in front of students in all of her classes.
“[Misophonia has] really transformed my life,” Thomas said. “Students just don’t really understand what it is. They may understand that I get frustrated, but they don’t understand that I don’t just get frustrated, it’s an episode that I go through, a real panic attack. It’s not something that I can sometimes deal with.”
Thomas said she hopes disability awareness will help students find better accommodations before the school year starts. On her first day of school, a professor ate in front of her, resulting in panic attack. She said if arrangements were made beforehand, situations such as these could be avoided.
“Understand that you’re not going to understand,” she said. “Be able to be respectful to whoever has the disability without understanding what they have.”
Undeclared freshman Carolina Phillips also served as a panelist and shared her story of living with Hashimoto’s. This autoimmune disease causes her body to attack her thyroid and lends itself to extreme fatigue and sensitivity to many foods.
“It’s always good to try to explain and educate people on it,” Phillips said.
A woman approached Phillips after the event to discuss her own thyroid problems and said Phillips’ story encouraged her to look further into her own health.
Phillips said she and other people with disorders often try to go beyond their capabilities in order to not make excuses. Phillips said it’s helpful to have faculty who not only ask if she’s feeling okay, but seek to really understand and educate themselves on her circumstance.
Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Kimberly B.W. Denu, Ph.D. said the workshop was effective in educating faculty and staff on being more respectful of students with disabilities.
“As many of our students have shared, they don’t want to be pitied or ostracized or marginalized, they want to be accepted and valued for who they are as a person, above and beyond their ability or disability,” Denu said. “The more I look at disabilities and its important place in the celebration of diversity, [I understand] how we value each person in this community and realize that they bring something special.”
From Feb. 27-March 3, 2017, APU will hold its second Disability Awareness Week, focusing on how students with disabilities contribute to diversity on campus. Visit apu.edu/lec/disabilities/ for more information on the LEC’s Disability Services.
From June 5-8, 2017, APU will host the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability. Visit faithanddisability.org/projects/summer-institute/ for more information.