Earlier this month, Kelli Bradley, executive director of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) and Emily Shryock, assistant director for SSD presented at the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity in Oahu, Hawaii. The conference, hosted by the University of Hawaii Center for Disabilities Studies, attracts attendees from around the world and includes a variety of disability perspectives – much broader than the higher education conferences Bradley and Shryock have attended in the past.
The duo led a breakout session titled, Beyond Accommodations: How Disability Services Can Promote Inclusion in Higher Education, which centered on the role of disability services in higher education as it relates to the growth and development of students with disabilities.
“It was challenging to piece the presentation together because we were not sure about the audience,” Shryock says. “But what we wanted to get across was that disability is a part of a student’s identity, not simply an accommodation, but a life experience that should be valued, respected, and reflected in campus diversity.”
In illustrating this point, Bradley and Shryock highlighted the many different programs and trainings available at UT Austin – from SSD’s many on-campus partnerships to recent awareness campaigns, like the one underway for Disability Awareness Month – “See the Able, Not the Label” which includes social media outreach, graphic design, photography, and news stories.
Shryock said the session was well received, noting that they heard back from a number of the participants once it wrapped. “I think what really stuck with people was that we talked about disability as a minority group,” she says. “It was exciting to be able to introduce the idea that disability is not just a medical diagnosis or accommodation to a group of folks that had never thought about it in that way.”
The conference also provided Bradley and Shryock the opportunity to get outside of the day-to-day campus accommodations bubble. “We were able to put ourselves in new learning environments and think about access and inclusion in different contexts,” Shryock says. “When we came back, we had various fresh ideas and perspective. Plus the beauty of Hawaii provided another layer of refreshment.”