Accessibility and Advocacy: Effecting Positive Change on Campus

for disabilities council article

Farmingdale State College has pride in its strength as an institution. One such strength is that of Farmingdale’s Disability Services Center (DSC). This department’s success is truly due to its phenomenal and dedicated staff. I have reached the opinion that any organization will not be successful unless they seek feedback from those that they hope to serve. I also believe that the most successful organizations are the ones that actively include their target demographic in the decision-making process in some capacity.

I am a charter member of the Disability Services Center’s Student Advisory Council (SAC) and currently, proudly, serve as its chair. SAC’s mission is to promote and advocate for all students with disabilities. SAC also develops programs and events designed to educate and spread awareness of disabilities within the campus community.

I became a charter member of SAC and later the sitting chair because I wanted to educate, spread awareness, and advocate for ALL disabilities in a positive light. When someone asked me once what does “…in a positive light mean?”, I paused for a moment and remembered a documentary film I had watched in the past. An HBO documentary called Autism: The Musical, with an inspirational story and powerful message that I would recommend anyone watch. There was one particular scene, however, that infuriated me.

When recounting the story of one of the documentary’s participants, a passing comment was said that many might not give much credence to. This participant was a child who has Autism Spectrum Disorder. He was described as being a “ladies man” and incredibly charismatic. A well-intentioned person trying to give a compliment stated something similar to, “…he’s got that charisma thing going where they love him. It really breaks my heart when I come to realize ‘Wow, if he wasn’t Autistic you could just imagine the possibilities.’” That may seem like a reasonable thing to say to many, perhaps including yourself, but I hope after reading this you may think differently.

In believing this, someone is making the assumption that having Autism is inherently a negative thing. They are inadvertently or purposely saying a person on the Autism Spectrum is unable to achieve what an individual that is not on the Spectrum can achieve. I am here to tell you that this is not true! Being on the Autistic Spectrum is not something to wish away. To put it another way, if he were not on the Spectrum he would not be who he is. His point of view and experiences are shaped by all parts of him, including his Autism Spectrum Disorder. You cannot ponder what he would be without it because then he would not be him.

It is my belief that we are all enriched by each other’s unique backgrounds and triumphs. It is what shapes our perspectives and makes us wonderfully unique and diverse individuals. That is what I mean when I say in a positive light. Redefining how you may think about disability. Focusing on the ABILITY of a person while developing coping strategies, support networks, self-efficacy, and self-advocacy skills. No one on the Autism Spectrum, for instance, is the same. Assumptions about all disabilities, visible and invisible, are what I try to fight against. Everyone is different and we all have something to contribute. When someone limits themselves or tries to conform to what others tell them they can or cannot do, we all lose something valuable. Our society is strengthened by this originality.

One disability awareness program started by SAC is Guide Dog Day. This event is dedicated to educating Farmingdale State College’s student body, faculty, and staff about proper guide-dog etiquette. SAC hosts the fantastic American Guide Dog Foundation on campus to share vital information. The Foundation brings a working guide dog named Alice and an Ambassador Dog named Godiva. As an ambassador dog, Godiva can be touched and played with and as a working dog, Alice cannot. Both dogs act as a contrast to each other as well as hands-on experience and opportunity to learn about guide-dog etiquette. Alice and Godiva also draw in a crowd! After all, in Godiva’s case, you would be hard pressed to find someone that is not attracted to an adorable black labrador retriever. If Godiva does not do it for you, there are plenty of our very clearly labeled delicious homemade “people treats” on offer as well. Now I am fighting the urge to go on and explain these necessary behavioral differences when it comes to guide-dog etiquette. I will keep it short, with four vital tenets retrieved from www.guidingeyes.org, because I appreciate you for reading this blog.

  1. The right to implement the use of a guide dog is protected by federal and     state laws, and their access to any public space cannot be limited.
  2. Always ask first if you want to assist an individual with a guide dog. If your help is accepted, offer your left elbow for the individual to hold on to. Do not grab the guide dog, their harness, or the individual’s arm.
  3. When a guide dog is in a labeled “harness,” it means they are working and should not be touched or distracted.
  4. Never feed a guide dog. Guide dogs’ feeding schedules, as well as their balanced diet, are strictly monitored.

SAC has also developed the Peer Support Network for incoming students. This is a program designed to assist all students registered with the DSC. Designated Peer Supporters are a friendly and approachable face. As a member of the network, I have been able to help dozens of my peers when it comes to giving advice about being a self-advocate, choosing classes, studying, how to get involved on campus, or even something as simple as where a building is on campus and how to get there. This is a wonderful program that was designed by students, for students. It has seen great success in the short amount of time it has been implemented.

To further educate while taking part in a fun social event, SAC has also presented movie nights. Movies that are related to, or showcase, a disability, are screened at the DSC and discussion of these movies follows. They are always a fun night with new and old friends full of entertainment, food, and meaningful discussion.

A continuing project SAC is performing for Farmingdale administration is researching Farmingdale’s campus buildings’ accessibility. We survey and document the presence and functionality of automatic doors, ramps, and elevators.

What I have shared with you are only a few activities, events, and programs SAC performs. I am truly passionate and proud of being able to help develop and expand this vital organization. Plus, what kind of a chair would I be if I did not take this opportunity to do a little recruitment?!

Ask yourself these questions: Do you want to build a more inclusive campus? Do you want to develop your leadership skills through a new, exciting challenge? Do you want to invest your time and attention to improve your community?

If so, the DSC Student Advisory Council is the place for you!

Leave a Reply