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Disability Summit to include students and national guest speaker

BY ERIN PHILLIPS | OCTOBER 06, 2009 7:20 AM

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Not every disability comes with a wheelchair.

From mental illness to hearing loss and learning difficulties, hundreds of UI students live every day with a disability, but many go unnoticed.

In an attempt to raise awareness about the stigma associated with having a disability, the UI will host its Second Disability Summit today from noon to 3:45 p.m. in Currier Hall’s Van Oel Multipurpose Room.

The event will host featured speaker Andrew Imparato, the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, the largest cross-disability membership organization in the United States.

“I think the No. 1 thing that will create a truly welcoming environment for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities is a good line of communication,” Imparato said.

The UI held its first summit in December 2008 as a one-time event for administrators, said Tiffini Stevenson Earl, a compliance specialist in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity.

But after unexpectedly receiving a rush of support, the Disability Planning and Action Committee formed to make it an annual event.

After the first summit, Stevenson Earl said, she remembers one administrator telling her he could not remember the last time the university held an event specifically focusing on disability services.

“I took that comment to heart,” she said. “Diversity includes disability, which some people do not recognize.”

In addition to the UI making the event annual, Stevenson Earl said, she noticed last year’s summit missed an important element: students.

Between 600 and 700 students are registered with Student Disability Services, but officials believe many more exist.

Officials encourage all students to attend the Disability Summit to help gauge what accessibility improvements they need to make on campus.

Bringing in an outside speaker is vital to build an inclusive community, Stevenson Earl said.

It’s necessary to reach out to students, Imparato said, and he believes they are the force for change.

And with today’s environment and economy, officials must build priorities on what needs to improve, he said.

“I really think the interaction at the Disability Summit will give a better understanding on what is a priority on campus and what exactly needs to be addressed in terms of change and accessibility,” he said.

As someone with profound hearing loss in both ears, Student Disability Services adviser Carly Armour said the summit is a good tool to give disabled students and employees a voice.

“I am always seeking effective tools for making our campus more welcoming for those with disabilities,” she said. “As one with a disability, I hope to have the opportunity to offer some input to my colleagues and listen to theirs.”


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