Student Advisory Committee promotes access, inclusion in tandem with March Disability Awareness Month events

Students associated with Purdue's DRC tape train tracks on the carpet of the eighth floor of Young Hall so prospective Purdue students can easily find disability resources. Students associated with Purdue's DRC tape train tracks on the carpet of the eighth floor of Young Hall to help lead visiting prospective Purdue students to disability resources.

Purdue student Noa Kossmann has a visual impairment that can’t be corrected with eyeglasses, contacts or surgery.

But that never stopped Kossmann’s elementary school art teacher from hassling the student about her eyesight. One time, the art teacher became so angry at Kossmann for not wearing glasses that she screamed at her during class, so loudly that teachers down the hall overheard the confrontation.

The experience reframed Kossmann’s perception of her disability, and is one of the reasons Kossmann is now studying speech and language hearing science, as well as minoring in critical disabilities, a new minor at Purdue. It’s also one of the reasons Kossmann decided to join the recently formed Student Advisory Committee sponsored by the Disability Resource Center (DRC), part of Student Success Programs

“From that point on, I realized that no one truly understands my disability except for me,” Kossmann says. “No one has better knowledge of what will benefit me the best besides me. Especially now that I’m an adult, I’ve figured out the best way for me to function in school and how to achieve success to the best of my ability.

“Thankfully, all of my professors and DRC staff members have been wonderful advocates and partners in my success, but I know there are other students on campus who’ve had different experiences.”

Students associated with Purdue's DRC pose in front of materials they will promote in March for Disability Awareness Month. Students associated with Purdue's DRC pose in front of materials they will promote in March for Disability Awareness Month.

As part of March Disability Awareness Month, Kossmann and other students on the DRC’s Student Advisory Committee will promote access and inclusion across campus through a series of initiatives and events. The students will hand out pins and other information at tabling events in March, as well as introduce themselves to prospective students during “Purdue’s for Me.” One goal is to recruit other students—those with disabilities and those without—to join their organization. Ultimately, they aim to change the perception of disability from one of personal impairment to simply another form of diversity.

“My disability isn’t what’s disabling me, it’s the environment that’s disabling,” Kossmann says. “For example, I’ve visited restaurants on campus that have their menus displayed on signs with font so small that I can’t read them, and they don’t offer handheld menus. This, to me, is an easy fix, and there are similar examples for any other disability, whether it’s having a wheelchair ramp in the front of a building or providing a distraction-free testing environment for a student who has ADHD. When you provide people with the accommodations they need, the disability ceases to matter.”

Raye Gipson, Kossmann’s access consultant in the DRC, says lack of awareness is one of the biggest issues related to disability on Purdue’s campus. Last semester, for example, a student broke his dominant hand and was advised by a student staff worker in another office that his only option was to withdraw from classes. Fortunately, the student eventually connected with the DRC, which arranged for him to have a note-taker and lab assistant while his hand healed. Gipson adds that the DRC serves as a resource to students, staff and faculty on designing accommodations and creating an inclusive environment.

Still, research suggests that many students do not seek DRC assistance for the following reasons:

  • Desire to shed the stigma of disability
  • Fear of resentment from other students for perceived special treatment
  • Not wanting to be singled out
  • Negative experiences with instructors
  • Discomfort with explaining their disability to others

The DRC hopes to ease these burdens by forming strong partnerships with faculty, with a goal of designing access into course materials and developing academic processes that are more welcoming overall.

A first step would be for instructors to include a statement in their syllabus regarding accessibility and accommodations. According to DRC Director Randall Ward, a few additional considerations include: ensuring course materials are compatible with screen reading technology; using videos that have accurate and synchronized captions; and returning all scored exams at the same time, whether they were taken in the classroom or at the DRC with accommodations.

“Everyone at Purdue has a role to play in this process” Ward says. “The vision behind forming the Student Advisory Committee was to inform the DRC and ultimately the campus community about the disability experience. Beyond informing our department, these students are broadening the campus community’s understanding of the disability experience and providing input to campus partners who can help move Purdue forward in terms of access and inclusion by design.”

Please see below for a list of other Purdue events to help recognize Disability Awareness Month:

  • FOCUS Awards. 10 a.m. March 2, West Faculty Lounge of the Purdue Memorial Union. Remarks provided by Amber O’Haver. Awards will be presented to an organization, a faculty member, a staff member, and a student who exemplify the spirit of Purdue and actively work toward disability accessibility and diversity.
  • I am NOT Your Inspiration, Indiana Disability Awareness Month theme. Presented by Amber O’Haver, administrative director for the Indiana Council on Independent Living. 3-4 p.m. March 2, Rawls Hall, Room 2058.
  • Advanced Americans with Disabilities Act General Session. 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. March 9, Rawls Hall, Room 2058.
  • Advanced Americans with Disabilities Act for Supervisors. 2-3 p.m. March 22, Armstrong Hall, Room B071.
  • Usable Materials in the Classroom. Presented by Tanisha Willoughby, associate director of Digital Compliance, Purdue University.  1-2 p.m. March 24, Rawls Hall, Room 2079.

For accommodations at any of these events, please contact the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) at 765-494-7253 or at equity@purdue.edu.

Writer: Andrea Thomas, communications director for Student Success Programs, 765-496-3754, thomas78@purdue.edu

Last updated: Feb. 20, 2017

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