It’s not hard to identify the difficulties an individual with a physical disability may face when navigating Seattle Pacific University’s campus. Stairs are required to access most locations set into the hilly Seattle terrain and not all buildings have elevators.
This is why Abilities Advocacy, SPU’s new club for disability support and awareness, meets in Emerson Hall, as it’s one of the most accessible buildings on campus.
Last spring quarter SPU’s Disability Support Services hosted the inaugural “No Limits, No Boundaries” lecture featuring Washington State Senator Cyrus Habib.
This was the catalyst for Junior Melissa Del Rio and Senior Nina Riesen to connect and work to continue the conversation about ability awareness through the club, which gained official status this past quarter.
Del Rio is a member of the club’s Core Squadron and hopes the group can work to start conversations about ability awareness on campus and give students a voice in these issues on campus.
Riesen is a nursing major and also works at Disability Support Services, which is where she first recognized gaps in resources available to students with disabilities and the need to provide them with peer support.
To receive accommodations from the university, students must provide documentation from qualified professionals to DSS. If students have barriers to getting documentation or going to DSS, Riesen hopes that Abilities Advocacy can be another support.
“The less we talk about it the more people are going to deal with it on their own, and that’s where it gets hard,” Riesen says.
It should be just as easy to say “I am diabetic” or “I am a nursing major” as it is to say that you have a mental illness, according to Riesen.
Working in hospitals is not always positive, says Riesen, so she enjoys working at DSS and meeting students who are enthusiastic about advocacy.
Del Rio was impacted growing up with different abilities, as well as being around people with different abilities. She is majoring in Theology with a minor in Reconciliation.
Eventually Del Rio hopes to work in disability ministry and bring the conversation of abilities to the justice conversation.
“It’s life giving; I feel so much more motivated and encouraged,” Del Rio says of the club.
Part support group, venting sessions and part brainstorming for how to start conversations on campus, the club hopes to work with DSS to put on the second Disability Awareness Lecture this spring.
“It’s fun to be with a group of people that you have it established that you’re passionate about abilities and community, they understand where you’re coming from,” Riesen says.
By bringing the conversation to members of the SPU community who aren’t aware of the difficulties many people face, Riesen and Del Rio hope to empower students to feel that they are not alone.
The group has lots of ideas beyond the second awareness lecture, from braille art, having conversations with faculty and staff and testing all the access doors on campus. Riesen points out that often times the access doors on campus don’t work.
“We really should fix this, it’s already in place and it should work, going off of that those are physical representations of what the school should be doing, being able to open doors for us,” Riesen says.