UI recognizes Disability Awareness Month with new traditions

During the month of October, faculty and student organizations are hosting events emphasizing inclusivity.


Emily Wangen

The outside of the UI Student Disability Services office is seen on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. The office is located in the basement of Burge Hall.

Grace Culbertson, News Reporter

The University of Iowa is spending October celebrating its community members with disabilities through a series of events for Disability Awareness Month.  

The UI Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion hosted a state Board of Regents Institutions Disability Summit earlier this month — a day-long program focused on educating the community about disabilities. 

American Disability Association Coordinator Tiffini Stevenson Earl began organizing the summit in 2008, intending for the event to be exclusive to Iowa City. However, the summit has now become a statewide initiative hosted by one of the three public universities, Stevenson Earl said. 

This year’s summit drew 80 school administrators, faculty, and community members to Iowa City, Stevenson Earl added. 

“If there are ways to get involved, I highly recommend it,” Stevenson Earl said. “…I think that’s a great way to connect, to hear about concerns and to highlight some of the things the university is doing well. [We] partner with those groups to ensure our university is welcoming and inclusive to all individuals whether you have a disability or not.” 

This year, the UI educated schools across the state about inclusivity on campus. Among others, this year’s topics included more accessible course materials and technologies, service and emotional-support animal laws, and appropriate rhetoric. Iowa State University will host next year’s summit.

The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion operates a Disability Advocacy and Awareness Committee that assists the campus in raising awareness of disabilities by awarding scholarships and an Above and Beyond award to outstanding leaders in disability awareness, Stevenson Earl said. 

UI junior Shalini Jasti received this year’s Above and Beyond honor for her work as an Iowa Youth Writing Project intern. Jasti worked with fellow intern Monica Juan to develop an individualized, physically accessible workshop for a project attendee.  

“It’s really cool to be a part of a tradition that allows students to have a space to show they are just like everyone else and they can be creative just like everybody else,” Jasti said. 

UI Students for Disability Awareness and Advocacy Marketing Director Austen Beaird said the awareness events this month will educate students about ways to help their classmates with different abilities. 

“It’s really cool to dive in and learn more about a community that needs support, needs advocacy, but also just needs to be heard,” Beaird said. “There’s a bunch of different ways to get involved. You don’t have to jump in and start a protest.” 

RELATED: Q&A: VP of Student Life Melissa Shivers talks DEI action plan, student disability services, and #DoesUiowaLoveMe

The organization will also host a service and emotional support animal information session Oct. 28 and a language event Nov. 3. 

In partnership with ASK Resource Center, UI Realizing Education and Career Hopes organized an all-inclusive, free screening of “Intelligent Lives,” a film that challenges stereotypical beliefs about people with intellectual disabilities, at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 in Van Allen Hall. 

“In high school, you had a parent advocating for your accommodations,” Stevenson Earl said. “In college, you’re responsible as a student and an adult to advocate for what accommodations you might need. We’re raising awareness for students and preparing them for the workforce.”