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January 28, 2014

SG pilots program to help disabled students

Student Government (SG) has launched an RSO Disabilities Accessibility Pilot Program to train RSO leaders in making SG-funded events more accessible. According to SG President and fourth-year Michael McCown, the program will likely become required for all RSOs seeking SG funding next year.

RSO leaders will learn about using resources available through Student Disabilities Services (SDS) on campus to make events more accessible, hosting events in physically accessible spaces, and advertising accessibility. SG will sponsor the program in partnership with SDS and the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA). SDS will run the training of the RSO leaders.

“The training will allow RSOs to consider accessibility in conceptualizing and planning events. When accessibility is factored into RSO events, we send a message to students with disabilities that they, too, are included; that their presence is welcomed, and their full participation is wanted. The University of Chicago values diversity and the presence of students with disabilities at various events will enrich these experiences for all attendees,” Gregory Moorehead, director of SDS, wrote in an e-mail.

Class of 2016 Representative Holly Rapp and Class of 2015 Representative Aseal Tineh are heading SG’s efforts to begin the pilot program. According to Tineh, this year’s program will consist of 20 RSOs that will participate and give feedback. As of January 23, four RSOs have committed to participating. Though SG has funds for the pilot program, it has not yet identified a permanent source of funding.

Moorehead said there are approximately 250 students registered with SDS, but not all students with disabilities are registered.

“I think, to a certain extent, there’s an attitude that it’s stigmatizing to reveal certain disabilities and therefore some students would just prefer not doing that, particularly if the response will not be the kind of support they need, which is another issue,” said Professor Morris Fred, who has taught the course Anthropology of Disability for a decade.

Sixth-year Ph.D candidate Margaret Fink, one of the co-coordinators of the Organization of Students with Disabilities, an advocacy group for students with disabilities, is supportive of the program.

“McCown came to some of our events last year when he was running, and we’ve been in touch with him periodically. And it’s been really nice to have him have disability on the agenda in terms of Student Government,” she said.

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