According to SAA co-president Andie Defreese, most Vanderbilt students don’t think twice about printing papers. They merely swipe their cards at the nearest residence hall, library or student center before rushing off to class with their documents in hand. However, for students with visual impairments, using a braille printer requires scheduling an appointment at the EAD (Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services Department), which is only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This lack of accessibility on campus is currently being addressed by a proposal for a disability community center, headed by the co-presidents of the Student Ability Alliance, DeFreese and Lexie Garrity.
“Many students with disabilities need resources like accessible printers and computers with certain capabilities, so we think that a space offering all of these resources would be extremely beneficial to the community,” Garrity said.
In addition to serving as a resource to students with disabilities, the community center would serve as a welcoming space for all Vanderbilt students to engage in the conversation surrounding disabilities.
“This space would be a good platform to continue what SAA wants to do, possibly hosting monthly talks with different professors and individuals in the community, conducting group discussion tables about what people want to see change on campus in relation to disabilities, and providing a community space where individuals with or without disabilities can come to study and do homework,” DeFreese said. “We’re focused on all students, regardless of ability. We just want them to feel safe and welcomed in this space.”
SAA recently found an ally for the community center in Vanderbilt Student Government.
“We just started working with VSG,” DeFreese said. “The plan is to collect data from different students on campus in order to obtain facts backing up why this space is needed and how it would be used. Early next fall, VSG is going to propose a bill to Vanderbilt to get us the space.”
In the meantime, SAA continues to fulfill its mission of increasing accessibility to disability at Vanderbilt. It is a diverse organization composed of students of all abilities, visible or not, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. SAA has completed projects mapping wheelchair accessible routes throughout campus, and they have utilized various ventures, such as TED Talks and Dean’s Dinners, to increase the minimal campus conversation surrounding disabilities.
“There are a lot of issues everyone has emotions tied to, whether it’s race or gender, and on campus there has been a great initiative to talk about these issues and make these minorities feel included, but I feel like the one aspect of diversity that’s not included in that conversation is disability,” DeFreese said.
As students who identify as having a disability, DeFreese and Garrity have experienced firsthand the difficulties of discussing disabilities with their peers and professors.
“People don’t realize that on your diversity statement, disability is there, and that’s what makes Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt- because of the diversity we have,” Garrity said.