The first of its kind in Texas, the Disability Cultural Center (DCC) positions UT Austin as a leader in exploring more equitable futures for disabled people who study, teach and work in higher education. Establishing a DCC sends the message that UT Austin recognizes disabled people as an integral part of the campus community. The DCC will serve as a hub on campus for organizing, community-building and expression for students with disabilities and all members of the university community.
Below is a timeline and short description of how the DCC was established at UT Austin.
A group of students, faculty and staff expressed interest in establishing a DCC and began meetings to discuss goals, ideas and plans for a DCC on the UT campus. Student groups, including the Disability Advocacy Student Coalition, Student Government Disabilities and Inclusion Agency and Student Senate, created and distributed a survey to assess student interest in a DCC, receiving an overwhelming response with support for a DCC.
The DCC Working Group developed and submitted a proposal for funding for a DCC Director salary to the Student Services Budget Committee, with the support of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) and the Division of Student Affairs.
DDCE received termed funding for a Founding Director salary.
The DCC Working Group conducted a nationwide search and interviewed candidates for the DCC Founding Director position, successfully hiring a candidate to start in early 2023. In addition, the DCC Working Group developed a proposal and recommendations for the physical location of the DCC that was reviewed and approved by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and Division of Student Affairs leadership.
The DCC’s founding director starts in the full-time position. The DCC begins hosting events and establishes a digital presence with a website and social media platforms. The DCC receives funding to cover costs of renovations of the existing space on the first floor of the Student Services Building that was approved for use as the future location of the DCC. Work on planning and design for the physical space begins. The DCC is awarded three years of funding for DCC programming through the university’s You Belong Here strategic direction.
Emily Shryock (she/her) is proud to be the founding director of UT Austin’s Disability Cultural Center. As a disabled woman, Emily is excited to combine her personal and professional experience in the DCC director role and looks forward to creating a community for disabled students, faculty, staff and alumni. Emily has been connected to UT Austin in a variety of capacities since 2010. She worked in Disability and Access for 12 years, graduated from the Steve Hicks School of Social Work with a master’s in Community and Administrative Leadership and has taught as part of the UT’s Critical Disability Studies program. Emily has served on several nonprofit boards in the Austin area and looks forward to building relationships between the DCC and the greater Austin community. Emily is a wheelchair athlete and has competed in several sports, including wheelchair rugby, wheelchair tennis and paratriathlon.
Disability Language and the DCC
Respecting how communities choose to describe their own identities and experiences is important and reflects the power language has to shape our perceptions and experiences of the world. The DCC is centered around disability as an identity, culture and community. With this perspective in mind, the DCC intentionally uses identity-first language when referencing disabled people and community. The DCC acknowledges other language choices related to disability, such as person-first language, and respects the choices people make to describe their own identity and experiences. The DCC recognizes some people may still be exploring their own identities and experiences related to the word “disability” or the disabled community. The DCC strives to provide support, education and community to people, regardless of where they are in their journey of disability.
Euphemisms for disability, such as “special needs,” “differently abled” and “handicapable” are rejected by the DCC as terms that “other” disabled lives and fail to acknowledge the real barriers that prevent disabled people from full participation in society.
To learn more about identity-first and person-first language, we recommend these resources:
Disability is a broad term that can encompass many different experiences, identities and diagnoses. People may identify as disabled, Deaf, neurodivergent, chronically ill, having a mental health disability or undiagnosed (among many other intersectional identities they may hold), and all are acknowledged and welcomed within the DCC. The DCC recognizes there are similarities and differences between disabled communities and strives to provide opportunities for connection and community building among and across disability groups as well as with those who are non-disabled. Those who identify as non-disabled advocates, allies or family members are also invited to become involved in the work of the DCC.