Sarah Todd Hammer ’24 (She/Her)
As a disabled person, in my personal experience, Davidson has been incredibly accommodating of my access needs. Not only did they put in the effort to remodel the bathroom in both my first-year and sophomore dorm rooms; they make sure to remove access barriers as I encounter them and inform the disabilities office. This semester, I was unable to open the doors to my Communications and Psychology classes. Within days, the handle for one door was changed, and an accessible button was added to the other door. When I walk into Commons, the employees greet me enthusiastically and assist me with getting my food. Edwin even makes me feel like I’m eating at a five-star restaurant as he prepares my Cheerwine without me having to ask, pulls my chair out for me, and brings me ice cream to my table. My peers are always willing to help in class, eager to assist with putting my laptop in my backpack and putting my backpack on. My friends even come down to my room late at night in their pajamas to assist me if I need help opening food or brushing my hair or whatever the task might be.
While Davidson exhibits the ability to create an inclusive community, the college exhibits an inability to promote their dedication to the disability community. So how does this lack of promotion line up with the college’s dedication to access and inclusion? On campus, disability is not treated as part of the fundamental diversity of human existence; rather, disability is viewed as unrecognizable.
Tour guides were not told to mention the office for Academic Access and Disability Resources (AADR) or take their tour groups on an accessible route until disabled students brought access to the Admission Office’s attention. There was no active club at Davidson for disabled students until we disabled students created Davidson Disability Alliance (DDA). And still, our club has a small presence. Looking at the Davidson website, a prospective—or current—student would not be able to locate resources for disabled students. A search containing “disability” must be done in order to discover the AADR page. Even under the tab “Diversity & Access,” disability is not mentioned. And while the Center for Diversity and Inclusion is doing necessary, great work for other groups, the center fails to acknowledge disability as an integral part of diversity.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion needs to advertise resources (such as AADR and DDA) for disabled students. The office for Academic Access and Disability Resources needs to be advertised on tours, in college information brochures, and on the Davidson website. Prospective and current students need to be made aware of the resources that are available to them.
For a small college, Davidson has quite a large disability population—especially since, according to the National Council on Disability, only 11% of disabled people are enrolled in higher education. Therefore, it is even more imperative that Davidson make their resources known. According to the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD), 86% of disabled college students were unaware of disability services. Davidson can help to change that by implementing these basic changes. And, doing so also benefits the college: by demonstrating their commitment to disability inclusion, their applicant pool may increase, as disabled applicants will feel better supported.
Two of my closest friends at Davidson are disabled. Though we all have very different disabilities, we are all able to bond and connect on a deeper level. We understand what it’s like to constantly advocate for yourself to achieve basic access. We understand what it’s like to feel awkward and embarrassed asking for help. We understand what it’s like to never be recognized as an integral part of diversity.
Conversations surrounding diversity cannot occur without including disability in the discussion. Davidson succeeds in creating an environment in which access barriers are few and far between compared to other schools and disabled students are made to feel more welcome than most places (from my conversations with disabled students from other colleges). However, they have lots of work to do when it comes to showcasing their dedication to disability inclusion.
Disability is diversity. I wish this sentiment were something the Davidson community and administration understood.
Sarah Todd Hammer (she/her) is an intended Psychology and Communication Studies major from Atlanta, GA. She can be reached for comment firstname.lastname@example.org.