After spending the majority of my first year at Oberlin shuffling between the conservatory practice rooms and Mudd library, I was overworked and disappointed with the experiences I had created for myself. I had always taken pride in trying new things, but now I had spent most of the year stuck in my double-degree schedule. I knew there had to be more to Oberlin than womb chairs and Robertson Hall, but I was having trouble finding meaningful work outside of my studies.
Near the end of the year I received an email from Oberlin’s Office of Disability Services about a position as a Student Accessibility Advocate (SAA). The job was first and foremost a mentoring position for incoming first-years registered with ODS, in addition to serving as liaisons between ODS and the college at large, helping professors to better understand and work with students with disabilities, and planning and attending events about disabilities. The job seemed a perfect fit since disability advocacy had been a huge part of my high school career, and although I had wanted to continue starting dialogues around disability at college, I had trouble breaking through without a community. Most of the conversations on campus revolving around minority topics seemed to skip over accessibility, and I wanted to change that. I applied, and returned to Oberlin in the fall as a SAA.
As a SAA, my world at Oberlin expanded. I met new people just as interested in conversations about disability as I was, people whom I now consider some of my closest friends. One of the highlights of my time as a SAA was in the spring of my second year, when Isabella Moreno, the head of the SAA program, organized a trip to the Ohio State University for the Multiple Perspectives Conference on Access, Inclusion, and Disability. The conference focuses on education and change, and workshops are held on a variety of topics concerning education, business, and public and social service. I learned a lot about the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the year we attended was the 25th anniversary of the ADA. The many facets of the ADA and its reach on people throughout the country became clearer to me as I sat in on workshops and asked questions.
Although many of the workshops focused on accessibility surrounding accommodations, voting, healthcare, and the law, some of the workshops were also personal and creative. My favorite workshop was called Inter-Ability Marriage: How Love is Lame, a series of skits performed by Thomas P. Webb, the Director of Disability Services at Wright State University, his wife, Rebecca Barringer Webb, and various other performers. The workshop weaved interactive discussions with scripted scenes to demonstrate the many perspectives and assumptions surrounding disability in marriage and relationships. In many ways, the presentation portrayed inter-ability struggles as akin to the LGBTQ, inter-racial, and inter-faith challenges that are more widely known in society today. The Webbs showed how their relationship is often viewed in public at places such as restaurants, and how Thomas’s disability affects the way others perceive them as a couple.
Each workshop I attended affected me in a different way. I was drawn in and intrigued by the conversations raised after each presentation, learning more about laws, accessibility, and compassion than I ever thought I would in one day. After returning to Oberlin, I realized the impact the conference had on not only my skills as a SAA, but also on my skills as a communicator and advocate. By learning more about the many facets of disability and accessibility, I gained more confidence in my ability to educate and promote awareness at Oberlin. Besides the educational aspects of the conference, traveling with the group of SAAs and Isabella gave me the fulfillment that I knew Oberlin had to offer, but hadn’t found my first year.
I am grateful for Isabella Moreno, as the SAA program has been an integral part of my college experience. The people I have met, the conversations we have had, and the changes we have witnessed, however small, have contributed to my time at Oberlin immensely.