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February 01, 2022
by Nicole O'brien, ECDS Intern


College students with disabilities must jump through countless hoops to obtain their education; many such hoops their typically developing peers cannot even begin to conceive. Colleges across the country insist campus diversity is a top priority. According to the article, “Disability impacts us all,” by the CDC, one in four adults in the US have a disability making them the largest minority group in the country. Yet, colleges often unknowingly deter them. This is in part due to the dismissal of, or inability to, fulfill accommodation requests by these students.

The number of disabled students seeking college degrees is on the rise; however, students without disabilities are nearly twice as likely to graduate from college (34.6%) compared to their peers with disabilities (16.4%) (U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics). Recently, I was made aware that colleges allocate a dismal amount of money to their disability offices because they do not generate revenue for their institutions. It’s as if higher education institutions have deemed us undesirable.

The mission of Educational Counseling and Disability Services (ECDS) at Ferris State University is to provide students with disabilities full participation in the academic community. How can ECDS facilitate an enriching college experience without the budgetary means to obtain even the most practical accommodations like building accessibility, assistive technology, and housing modifications?

My name is Nicole O’Brien. I am a student with Cerebral Palsy pursuing a Bachelor's of Social Work from Ferris State University. I inquired about the possibility of an internship with Julie Alexander, Director of Accessibility and Disability Services at Ferris, in February 2021. The opportunity to intern at ECDS has been very intriguing to me as I envision myself directing a disability office one day. ECDS will provide invaluable insight and workplace skills for this vision. I embrace this position with a very progressive stance on disability rights. My goal is to provide disabled students a platform that enables them to leave an indelible mark on college campuses around the country.

My duties as an intern include but will not be limited to; shadowing disability accommodation intakes, writing periodicals related to relevant disability topics for the ECDS website, writing grants in an effort to acquire the most innovative technology and software in hopes of equipping students with tools for achieving greater academic success, and advancing the mission of ECDS by preserving its integrity. ECDS employs four staff: Julie Alexander, the director, Ashley Hawley, the office secretary, and two Educational Counselors/Assistant Professors, Cindy Smith and Kim Dickman.

So you call us undesirable? What if I told you students with disabilities are arguably your greatest asset in promoting intersectionality? The adversity we face tends to make us more empathetic and passionate about obtaining equal rights for others. I will not stay silent. Together let’s dictate our own college experience and make our ambitions a reality. You can contact ECDS by phone at (231) 591-3057, by email at [email protected], or by mail at 820 Campus Dr. Arts & Sciences Commons room 1017, Big Rapids, MI 49307.

I have the honor of representing Ferris State University students on national boards for those with disabilities. Help me advocate for you! Contact me at [email protected] with disability culture changes you would like to see across college campuses nationwide!