In two weeks’ time, my friend and I will be giving a presentation in our U.S. College Students class to educate our classmates (and future colleagues) on the needs of and methods for supporting our campus populations of students with disabilities. We have spent the semester so far educating ourselves by doing research and interviewing students who identify as having disabilities and administrators who provide support services. Their heartfelt accounts have changed my perspective of how I should interact on a daily basis and what I can do to educate the people around me.
11% of all college students have a disability. Some disabilities are more visible to other people, while others are more invisible in nature; for example, learning disabilities. Whether or not you know if your friend, roommate, classmate, or professor has a disability, there are ways you can become more conscious to interact with everyone in a way that doesn’t assume either way.
Here are some ways we can create a culture that is more open and supportive to the needs and abilities of all people…
Use Person-First Language. Don’t define the person by their disability, because the person’s identity includes so many more aspects. Instead of saying someone is “handicapped” or “disabled”, say “he or she has a disability”. Instead of saying “a hearing-impaired person”, say “a person with a hearing impairment”. Note the person-noun is put first in these statements.
*When working on a group project, don’t assume everyone has the same learning/working style as you. Your classmates may need some extra time to process material, so do not expect them to read or contribute in a certain way or time frame. Ask your group members how they would like to contribute to the class project so each person can utilize their own learning/working strengths and needs. Requiring or pushing people to work or act in a certain way puts pressure on them to tell everyone what they struggle with.
*Sign up to be a note-taker! The College of Saint Rose Office of Services for Students with Disabilities asks for students every semester who are willing to have their personal class notes copied and given to students who need accommodations in taking their own class notes. You take your notes as your normally would and bring them to the Academic Support Center to be copied and filed for the other student to pick up at a later time. This is a great way to anonymously help a classmate and earn some extra money for your living expenses. Look for the announcements around campus (on the plasma screens or in the Academic Support Center) at the beginning of every semester.