During Autism Awareness Month, I reviewed Salisbury University’s resources for students with disabilities. As someone diagnosed with Asperger’s, I wanted to answer a simple question.
Is our school a supporting environment for those on the autism spectrum?
Candace Henry of the Disability Resource Center does her part in spreading awareness. At the start of April, her office sends an email to the SU community full of resources, accessibility information and supported events.
One event was the Disability Resource Center Access Awards, which were combined with the annual Delta Alpha Pi induction this year on April 28. Delta Alpha Pi recognizes high-achieving university students with disabilities.
This ceremony awarded students, faculty and staff who went above and beyond to spread disability awareness as advocates for students.
Award winners are an example for others to improve SU for those with disabilities. Graduate student Will Fried is an example of advocacy excellence.
The Disability Resource Center now gives out the Will Fried Outstanding Undergraduate Award in honor of his accomplishments.
Fried researched how other universities accommodate students with autism and interned with the international disability advocacy organization TASH. One example he learned of was spec grading.
This practice at Vanderbilt University involves students choosing from a selection of assignments to complete. It allows them to produce their best work and achieve greatness in the classroom.
Fried credited some of SU’s staff and faculty who pushed him to succeed and “take [his] work to another level.” Unfortunately, it seems more understanding is needed in the university community.
While discussing electric shock treatment during class, Fried witnessed immature reactions from some of his classmates. Fried had brought up the controversial Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, MA.
It was one of the last facilities to use the cruel practice on children with disabilities. A ban on electric therapy from the Food and Drug Administration stopped the school’s use of the tactic in 2020, according to National Broadcasting Company News.
Fried’s professor explained why this topic was no laughing matter, and the situation was resolved. However, this incident shows there is room for improvement at SU.
Spreading awareness and understanding is essential to creating a healthy atmosphere for individuals on the spectrum. A first step would be better support for the Disability Resource Center.
Henry said that, “people do not [fully] understand what [the Disability Resource Center does] for students.” Five years ago, her office served around 300 students. Now it “serves close to 700 students with only three staff members.”
All advances during Henry’s time at the center have been supported by Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Wallace Sutherland III. Difficulty with evolving SU’s disability services could be traced to the various channels through which requests are made, according to Henry.
This is concerning considering the Counseling Center’s dwindling resources. Disability and mental health services should not have significant obstacles in acquiring the tools and staff they need.
There are various opportunities for students, staff and faculty to gain a deeper understanding of acceptance. However, current infrastructure is not enough.
SU’s efforts towards accessibility and inclusivity need higher prioritization to support a growing population of community members with disabilities.
By JACOB BEAVER
Staff photo courtesy of Ben Lausch