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Student Group Campaigns for Disability Rights

The Disability Rights Coalition celebrates International Day of Persons with Disabilities on campus.

Photo by Patrick Bradley

One student group at AU is trying to change the university by raising awareness one student at a time.

Through their first official events as a club, the newly formed Disability Rights Coalition is bringing attention to something its president – sophomore Allie Cannington – considers overlooked.

“Disability is not often talked about, and there’s a lot of stigma toward it,” she explains. “We’re going to try to break down those barriers with this club.”

To that end, Cannington and the group launched a series of events that highlighted the week surrounding the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which took place on December 3rd.

“We’re trying to engage the AU community in learning that this day exists and that there are one billion people around the world with disabilities,” says Cannington, a Political Science and International Communications major. “A significant number of them do not have equal rights, whether it’s to education, employment, medical services, or just socially and awareness-wise.”

The Coalition tabled in the Mary Graydon Center with information on disability rights and a listserv signup to get updates on the group’s activity. They also touted their premier event for the week – a panel discussion featuring representatives from the United States Council on International Disability, as well as Terhas Clark, an AU student who works with the university’s Student Government on disability issues. The panel discussed the UN Disability Rights Convention.

Georgia Ottoni, a College of Arts & Sciences sophomore and vice president of the Coalition, hopes the events emphasized for students the scope and importance of rights for people with disabilities.

“We want to advocate for the wide range of disabilities because most people think of visible disabilities, like being in a wheelchair or having crutches. There are learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, mental, sensory, [and others],” she says. “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world.”

As another way to illustrate the number of persons with disabilities, the Coalition hung a canvas world map in the Tavern. With a marker in hand, students could cover the globe with words on the rights they wished for all people, especially those with disabilities.

“Although it is a culture in itself, it is seen through other cultures,” Ottoni explains of the diverse issues that affect persons with disabilities. “There are Latinos with disabilities. There are people in the LGBT community with disabilities. So, it’s not just its own culture. It’s seen everywhere.”

With a handful of events under its belt, the Disability Rights Coalition has already started off in what Cannington describes as “a positive and empowering direction.”

Ottoni feels the support for her budding organization from all sides of the university – from Student Government to Disability Support Services.

“We do see a really big positive reaction from people who have never had something like this and find comfort and pride in this club,” she says. “People are excited that this is a club on campus and it’s not something we’re just doing that has no purpose. We’re reaching out to make a bigger impact.”

Cannington agrees, believing the support so far is just what a new organization needs to start raising awareness, one student at a time.

“[AU]’s been a really supportive community environment,” she says. “It’s a good place to start a club like the Disability Rights Coalition.”

Visit the Disability Rights Coalition’s Facebook page to hear about upcoming meetings and events by clicking here.

Click here to learn about AU’s Disability Support Services.