UI Disability Cultural Space undergoing planning for implementation

After years of efforts from the UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness, a Disability Cultural Space has been approved and is undergoing planning.


Raquele Decker

University of Iowa’s student Disability Services Office is seen on September 3, 2020.

Archie Wagner, News Reporter

The University of Iowa is working to create a space on campus for students with disabilities, according to UI President Barbara Wilson.

Wilson said in an interview with The Daily Iowan Tuesday that a space for students with disabilities will likely be in the Old Capitol Mall. The UI student organization UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness has called on the university to create a space for students with disabilities.

While the space would not be a UI legacy cultural center, such as the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center, Latino Native American Cultural Center, and the Pride Alliance Center, it would be a physical meeting space for students.

“We’re not going to have every group on campus have a new house,” Wilson said. “But what we’re trying to do is have areas that support students at different places.”

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Wilson said she doesn’t know what the space will be called, but it will provide additional space for groups to meet and potentially host events.

“We’re trying to work on what I would consider a range of spaces for some of our larger groups that serve lots of students,” Wilson said.

UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness collected 464 signatures on a petition advocating for a designated space for students with disabilities on campus.

The petition cited growth in the population of students with disabilities at the UI, as over the past decade, there was an 80 percent increase in student accommodations and a 77 percent increase in recorded student disabilities, the petition states.

The petition also highlighted the larger trend of low graduation rates for disabled students resulting from a lack of campus resources.

UI first-year student Natalie Gustin joined the Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness in August 2022.

“I started working on the cultural center with some other people in the club, in the organization,” Gustin said.

Gustin said this year’s effort for a space for students with disabilities was not the first time UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness has advocated for a space.

“A couple years ago, the leadership from UISDAA, who at the time had tried to do it as well, but it just kind of fizzles out,” Gustin said.

Gustin said a challenge regarding getting a cultural space has been combatting incorrect assumptions about the culture of people with disabilities.

“It’d be a place to build the disabled community up and to connect with other disabled students on campus,” Gustin said.

From her view, Gustin thinks the campus space will be a room with a variety of resources, including educational resources consisting of research papers on people with disabilities, books, and movies featuring main characters with disabilities, and social resources.

Gustin said the space would also include food, ice packs and heating pads, fidget spinners, and any other items to accommodate people needing to take a break to recharge.

Gustin said the space would also be used for UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness advocacy meetings along with social events like movie nights and study sessions.

“Being disabled in academia is so unsupported, and it’s so hard to be disabled while you’re trying to study,” Gustin said. “Like chronic pain, chronic illness, flare-ups, fatigue, all of these things make it difficult to maintain the same academic standards as somebody who does not have any of these issues.”

Gustin said she thinks having a space where people can be validated in their experiences and know they’re not going through them alone will positively impact disabled students at the UI.

She said she and other advocates from the UI Students for Disability Advocacy and Awareness have been working with the UI Executive Director for Belonging and Inclusion Maria Bruno to plan for the space.

“We met with her at the beginning of the school year, and she kind of gave us some guidance as to what she needed to see before we could start getting into action,” Gustin said.

Gustin said a key part of the process so far has been ensuring the initiative for the space has had community support.

In addition to petition signatures, Gustin said the effort for a disability cultural space found community support from the UI grad workers union COGS, UI Pride Alliance Center, and other cultural organizations.

“Having a lot of people on campus show that they want this too, and they think this is a good idea really helped us emphasize to the people that we are advocating to that this was something that we needed,” Gustin said.