What began as a project in one graduate student’s service learning class last semester evolved into AccessABLE, a disability resource group for UA faculty and staff that provides a space for members to connect, share their concerns and pool their resources.
AccessABLE founder Kelly Dundon and her co-founders, graduate assistant Gonzalo Camp and graduate student Adam Laffiteau, started the group at the beginning of the semester to bring together the offices, departments and faculty bodies engaging in disability topics on campus, Dundon said.
Although Dundon does not have a disability herself, she wanted to help facilitate a conversation and between these offices and faculties, she said. She noticed that while the UA campus has resources available for people with disabilities, it lacks a forum for easy discussion.
The co-founders organized an event for disability education and advocacy for a project in their service learning class last spring, Dundon said. The event featured a short film screening and a panel of four speakers who offered perspective on disability and shared their experiences.
Building from the momentum of the event, Dundon and her co-founders began partnering with the UA Office of Diversity and Inclusion to create AccessABLE, she said.
Dundon noticed this semester that there were other resource groups on campus for people with specific identities, such as Latino, African American and veteran, so she sought to start one for people with disabilities and allies.
AccessABLE faculty supervisor George Turner thinks accessibility has improved greatly since he first came to campus, he said in an email.
Turner was born with spina bifida, causing him to be paralyzed from the waist down. He taught himself to walk well enough to get around his house, but he uses a wheelchair when he is away from home, he said.
“Whether to improve accessibility or simply maintain it, we should strive to keep the conversation alive and go deeper, especially as it pertains to the place of individuals with handicaps/disabilities on campus, in the workplace and in society, ” Turner said.
Turner thinks when society recognizes the value and skills offered by people with disabilities, the issue of accessibility will likely be resolved, he said.
While AccessABLE is a place to have conversations and bring up concerns, it is not an advocacy group, said Danielle Williams, the assistant vice chancellor and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance.
Department representatives from the OEOC, Student Affairs Development and Communication (SADC) and the Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education (DVMC) attend AccessABLE meetings.
AccessABLE meets at 1 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the Multicultural Center.
Dundon plans to interview disabled faculty members in a study for her masters thesis and ask about recruitment strategies to hire more faculty members with disabilities, the unique strengths and resources they bring to universities and the barriers they face, she said.
The study is a representation of faculty members with disabilities and an exploration of their experiences, Dundon said.
Dundon will use the study for her thesis, and she hopes to publish it in a scholarly journal and present her findings at the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity in March 2020, she said.
Campus News Editor Kate Duby contributed to this report.