By Emily Wild, For The Miami Student
The newly established Student Disability Advocacy Council is working to give a voice to students with disabilities at Miami.
The organization is recruiting anyone registered with Student Disability Services. The idea is for those students to meet people with similar experiences and communicate their ideas for improving the university's disability community.
The advocacy council comes in tandem with a new Director of Accessible Technology Miami will add to its IT department this year. Both these changes will affect more than 800 Miami students, a record high for the university.
The idea for the council originated in the summer of 2014, when the disability office moved to the division of student affairs, becoming a single office known as Student Disability Services.
Along with these changes, Andrew Zeisler, director of disability services at Miami, had bigger goals in mind.
"One of the things I wanted to come up with for this year was a student advocacy group that would be open to any student registered in our office," Zeisler said.
He envisioned a type of student panel that would be able to talk with the Student Disability Services staff about different programs and events they would like to see. Zeisler said he hoped by gaining this student perspective, the staff would be more capable of serving the needs of students and understanding their experiences.
Greg Cherry, a graduate student who aids in overseeing council activities, agreed with the need for a group geared entirely toward the students and their interests.
"The idea was to create a group for students to come together as a support group for each other outside of the classroom," Cherry said.
The council has met three times so far and will continue do so on a biweekly basis. About 10 participating students have been present at these meetings. Nine people serve as liaison members of the council who listen to the students' suggestions and work to make them a reality.
An immediate goal of the council is to create mentoring opportunities in which upperclassmen work with first-year students as they begin their Miami experience. This may also include working with the Office of Admissions to create relationships between current and prospective students.
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Other future initiatives may include a subcommittee for students within the autism spectrum and panels with faculty so that students with disabilities can relay their needs to professors outside of the classroom. The council would also like to hold events aimed toward educating the greater Miami community about the role of Student Disability Services on campus.
Additionally, the council has tentative plans to begin an alumni program to bring back Miami graduates so they can be involved in the changes the university makes to create a more accessible campus for students with disabilities.
Overall, Zeisler said the Student Disability Advocacy Council is all about the students themselves.
"The three biggest things are looking internally, looking at others, and looking at how your disability plays into the larger community," Zeisler said.
Hannah Heath, a first-year student registered with Student Disability Services and a member of the Student Disability Advocacy Council, has already felt a positive effect from the group's work.
"I think it's a great opportunity to connect with other students with disabilities and to advocate for them," Heath said. "I didn't know anybody else with disabilities on campus until we started this group."
Heath said she is optimistic about the future of the group and all that it can accomplish.
"I really hope that we can grow the group and reach out to more people and just have an impact around campus besides within our own little group, working to spread the word and de-stigmatize disabilities."