Disability Awareness with the DRC

Cishella Durling: Hi, everyone! Welcome to another episode of the Student Affairs podcast series. My name is Cishella Durling, and I will be your host today. And we also have another co-host with us today, the student advocate, Sam Mackenzie, is going to be assisting me in this interview where we're going to be interviewing Brian Holahan from the Disability Resource Center and so I'm going to go ahead and turn it over to Sam to introduce herself and then for Brian to introduce himself.

Samantha MacKenzie: Sure! Hi everyone, my name is Samantha Mackenzie and I'm the Student Advocate here at UofL, and my role is just to help students out and navigating whatever it may be, whatever issue comes up, and help them figure out where they need to go for support and resources.

Brian Holahan: And I'm Brian Holahan, and I work at the Disability Resource Center as a Disability Resources Coordinator. And I think we're going to talk a little bit more about what I do as well, but kind of the broad version is that we help students with document disabilities receive accommodations in their courses, and work collaboratively with faculty and students to ensure that they are getting their accommodations, and that the curriculum is accessible, and that they can do as well as they can here UofL.

Cishella Durling: Awesome! Well, I'm so excited to have both of you joining me today for this podcast where we're going to be talking about the Disability Resource Center and the activism and advocacy that the Disability Resource Center is engaged with here at the University of Louisville, to support students with disabilities. So, I'm going to go ahead and start off by asking you, Brian, how does the DRC engage in advocacy and activism efforts to promote disability awareness and inclusion on campus?

Brian Holahan: So, there's definitely several pieces to this. I think the one of the ones we do most often is actually just advocating for individual students, which happens in a variety of ways. But you know, if students come to our office honestly and need documentation, we can direct them in the right place, we don't do it here, but we can direct them to resources in the Community. If they have documentation, we can help get them set up with accommodations and a lot of the advocacy we do for individual students revolves around in the classroom. So, there's a huge spectrum of things the student may need, and sometimes it's honestly just helping them navigate a situation with an instructor or a faculty member. Or us all working together to make sure that they're able to receive the accommodations they need. And if for some reason there's a hiccup in that process, we can all work together. You know, we know that a lot of times, not a lot times, sometimes students may not have had a lot of experience advocating for themselves, and it can be intimidating. So, some students are already doing it and around it, but if they ever need assistance, we are happy to help facilitate those conversations and be an advocate for them if they need that. As far as inclusion on campus, we provide trainings, which again, vary wildly from Disability Advocacy to other things as well. So, some of things we've done in the past are meetings. We do have a few classes that will go to every semester where -- I don't know how it began, but we started going and now every semester we will go to -- there's an HSS class that's like a community health and they have guest speakers come in and we'll go in there and talk about people with disabilities and not necessarily, you know, students or people in the community, and some of the challenges they face, like with accessing healthcare and different things. We also speak with department chairs. I have a meeting with the A&S; department chairs next week just to talk about the general things we do and how they can help support us and how they can ensure that their providing accessible materials and classes and making sure that their classrooms are accessible and if it isn't, letting them know that we are happy to help. So, those are some of the big topics that we kind of do.

Samantha MacKenzie: That sounds awesome. So could you discuss any specific campaigns or projects DRC had led that the goal of it is to raise awareness about Disability rights and issues, and also how can student, staff, and faculty actively participate in these initiatives.

Brian Holahan: Yes, we do several trainings and there's a way for people to request a training if they actually want someone from the office to come and present on how to be an advocate for students with disabilities. But on our website, there's a place to request one for. And honestly, anyone—we've done it for RSO’s, classrooms, different staff, organizations, and staff meetings and things like that. There's also an online training that people can do themselves, like anyone could just log on and go through the training and then at the end you kind of sign a thing saying you completed it. And that has a lot of good information about disability rights and issues and how to be navigated, how to make sure things are accessible, and what someone can do to help improve that. And there's actually also a facilitation guide in that same spot. So, if someone wanted to present it to a group themselves, and maybe we weren't available, or they wanted to take the actual presentation themselves, they can download that and use that as well. And it's pretty, it's pretty explicit. It goes through slide through slides, like you know you wouldn't need to be, you know, an expert in it to do the presentation, which is the whole point. So, that's another option as well. And then the other thing too, I just want to throw out there, this is like outside of our office, but there's also a student led organization, the Disabled Cards United RSO, that has several members and is pretty active. It's not under our office, but I know a couple of people that are in it, and I think they're doing a lot of interesting things. So, I know sometimes they need things from staff or faculty as far as like Advisors. And of course, if students wanted to be involved, I'm sure I'm sure they would be accepting of new members. But that's kind of outside of our office, but yeah.

Cishella Durling: That's awesome to hear and thank you for the shout out for DCU, Disabled Cards United. I am actually on the advocacy committee, and yes, we always love to get students, faculty, staff, really anybody, involved in disability advocacy. So that kind of goes into my next question for you. So, what ways does the DRC empower individuals with disabilities to become advocates for themselves and others? And how do you encourage the broader campus community to join in on these efforts?

Brian Holahan: I think I kind of touched on it a minute ago where we talked about advocating for individual students. So, a short synopsis of sorts how the process would work is: a student who is receiving accommodation were to receive a letter that documents the accommodations that they're approved for. They provide it to the instructor, and thankfully, the large majority of instructors we work with see letters every semester, are pretty in tune with, like, ‘OK, this is what I need to do. This is how it works.’ So thankfully it usually goes very, very smoothly. But as far as helping the students advocate for themselves, you know, we realize, I think I mentioned this a minute ago, that we see more and more students now, of course, like freshmen coming in, depending on their high school experience, may or may not have been super involved in their IEP meetings or 504 plans, if they had those in high school, and now they’re coming to college, like sometimes they are, and other times they're not. So now to say, here's the slider and you do need to go talk to your instructor. Some of them, of course, are just like, alright, sounds great, but other ones are sort of trying to navigate that dynamic and like, ‘what do I say, and how do I…’ and it's intimidating, too. I mean, you're talking to doctor so and so who wrote the book that we're having and it's an intimidating experience. It can be. Thankfully, most instructors are lovely and wonderful, but I understand why someone might be nervous about that. So, we are always available to help students initiate those conversations, make sure they feel comfortable talking to instructors, and if they do have any concerns or confusion over how to do it or they're worried the instructor doesn't quite understand what the plan is, we always encourage them to help out with us or to reach out to us.

The other thing we're seeing more of recently, which honestly I think it's probably a good thing in some ways, is: I'm seeing more students who have been at UofL for a year, two years, three years, and are just recently diagnosed with, you know something, and so then it's like a whole different dynamic because they're not only trying to navigate the conversation with the instructor, but also -- I actually just heard this from a student the other day -- you know, they're trying to also just wrap their head around what does this mean for me, and how is it impacting me, and how am I navigating this. So, then to also say you need to have this conversation with your instructor. Again, that can be tricky.

And then as far as the larger campus goes, we just mentioned this a minute ago, but we kind of switched how we did caseloads. So previously I kind of had any student that had a learning disability or ADHD as their primary disability. Which of course, there's people who have a variety of things, there's a lot of overlap. But we've switched it to specific units now, so I only have Arts and Sciences, which has been helpful, because again, I'm meeting with the chairs -- I actually ended up talking to the chair about something last semester -- the Dean of Arts and Science’s about something. And she and I were talking, and she's very nice, and she invited me to come to speak to the chairs because there was some confusion. And so, I'm seeing the same instructor names and we're having conversations more than once. And I just think there's a lot of -- it's so much easier when you can say, you know, I talked to doctor so and so the last semester about this other thing, and he knows that Brian and I spoke last time, so I can just ask Brian, and it's made things a lot easier to just provide the collaboration where you're working with similar people over and over. And then there's a, you know, the trust component, and everyone feels like they're on the same page. So that's been really helpful.

Samantha MacKenzie: Awesome. So, we've actually already kind of described some of the partnerships that the DRC has, for example, with the different academic units. And I know that that DRC has partnered with a lot of other UofL organizations, or even outside organizations, to help. For example, I know we've done the Reframing Autism initiative where it was DRC, Dean of Students office, the Kentucky Autism Training Center and the Delphi Center, and hopefully we'll get that back going soon. But I know you all do a lot of work with other entities and other organizations, so can you elaborate on any other partnerships or collaborations you all have that are used to amplify advocacy efforts to promote disability awareness? I know there is an event coming up that you all are helping out with as well, so if you want to mention that.

Brian Holahan: So, there's actually a kind of a variety of things that we do in the community, so every year JCPS has at least one. But now I think there might be two sort of events, one’s called going to college with a disability. And it's for students and families and JCPS who I think -- I honestly think anyone can go because sometimes we do see students who like sophomores, so they're very early on in the process. But a lot of them are juniors and seniors. And so, that one is actually, I think a bunch of schools in Kentucky. So, it's a virtual thing and like I'll be there, but also UK and other places where parents, students can ask questions about what does it look like, how do you get signed up, what types of accommodations can a student get or need.

The other one too, we do work somewhat closely with Vocational Rehab. So, we have our coaching program for students with disabilities and Vocational Rehab sometimes can help students pay for those services or pay for books. And so, we end up working with some of the VOC rehab counselors on that a little bit and then this is a somewhat newer program, but there's an internship at, I believe it's pronounced Fehribach Center, which is in Indianapolis. It's for specifically for students with physical disabilities, but it offers, like paid summer internships, and they can provide a lot of support with workplace accommodations and professional development, accessible housing and transportation. We've had at least one student do it, and I know that they're continuing to plan on seeing if students want to do it. And the student that did it had a good experience. And then also our director, Colleen, is participating in this community of practice with the Fehribach Center this year to improve career development services for, or resources, for students’ disabilities. And that's with our office, them, the University Career Center and the Speed School Career Center. I don't think that's happened yet, but it's going to happen.

Cishella Durling: Well, it sounds like the Disability Resource Center is really engaged in a lot of advocacy work and a lot of activism through partnerships with various organizations on campus. And I think that truly is one of the best approaches, particularly when we're dealing with students with disabilities. We need to be building that community and ensuring that there are resources and supports in place so that they are feeling like they're their possibilities are endless, that they can be self-determined and that they're postsecondary educational experience is what they imagined it to be. So, thank you to the Disability Resource Center and thank you to the Student Advocate who do so much work in supporting these students on their post-secondary journey. So, thank you to both of you for taking the time to come and talk today about disability awareness and advocacy here at the University of Louisville.

Alright. Well, we're going to go ahead and wrap this up with. Did you know that there will be a Disability talk on campus March 21? That's a Thursday at the Belknap Academic Building with a tabling event in the lobby. And then a student panel in Room 218. Additionally, Brian had mentioned earlier that there are resources on the Disability Resource Centers web page, and I wanted to make sure that you all have that link. So that is louisville.edu/disability/advocacy, so be sure to go and check that out and you can see all of the different ways that you can get engaged and help advocate for students with disabilities here at the University of Louisville. All right, everyone. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of the Student Affairs Podcast series. And you all have a wonderful day.


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