New org combats inaccessibility throughout campus

Image courtesy of Ariana Boswell via ACCESS.

In an effort to streamline accessibility to on-campus accommodations, students have banded together to create ACCESS, Vassar’s new disability club, where they hope to foster universal solutions for problems that both disabled and nondisabled people face in everyday life, according to Co-President Shira Freilich ’25. 

According to Ariana Boswell ’25, Secretary for ACCESS, “The main goal of ACCESS is to create a community where Vassar students can come together to share their unique experiences surrounding disability and accessibility, as well as to advocate for change at Vassar and beyond.”

Freilich wrote in a correspondence, “We hope to engage with different departments at Vassar including administration, the CCE (formerly CDO), AEO, dining services, and many more. We will also be hosting guest speakers in the future, some of whom are Vassar alumni, to share their stories and offer advice.”

The first major event will feature a Q&A session with guest speakers Odile Carroll ’15 and Ayesha Krishnan Hamilton in collaboration with the CCE on Feb. 4 at 3 p.m. in Rocky 300. “We hope to hold many similar events throughout the semester,” said Boswell. “During our first meeting, we created a list of on-campus changes students would like to see, including making the buildings more accessible and improving disability education among staff.” Freilich added, “It is about accommodations in the workforce and we will have two speakers discuss this issue: one is an employment lawyer and the other is a disability studies PhD student.”

In addition to future guest speakers and administrative engagement, ACCESS aims to address the history of inadequate access to accommodations. In a written correspondence, Co-Vice President and Treasurer Sneha Das ’25 said, “Growing up, I never had a place to openly talk about my disability and therefore I couldn’t even get tested until I got to college.” She added, “Even though we have only had one meeting, just being able to talk to people with similar experiences created a sense of community for me and made me feel like I found my place.”

Das noted, “My hope is that this club can be a safe space for students with disabilities and that we are able to create a space where we can celebrate disability.”

Boswell added that many of the founding members of ACCESS have had negative experiences in the past while trying to obtain the accommodations they require. She said, “Having this organization is so important because it provides us with a space where we can feel comfortable advocating for ourselves. These issues aren’t isolated to any single place or time, which is why we plan to eventually expand our efforts beyond Vassar to remove the barriers that disabled people are unjustly forced to face in our society.”

Freilich, too, shared negative experiences trying to access accommodations at Vassar and in the past. “I struggled to get any accommodations in high school despite having difficulty completing my work and managing my anxiety. When I got to Vassar, I was so happy to have the AEO but it was super intimidating to approach them. I think I cried the first time I talked to them because I was so intimidated. I want students to feel more confident when advocating for themselves and their needs. I don’t want other students to access accommodations like I did in high school.”

According to Freilich, “The AEO is amazing but it is quite limited in what it can accomplish due to its small size and lack of student involvement. We would like to fill in the gaps by creating spaces where disabled people feel like they can fit in and don’t have to hide their disability.”

Freilich said she noticed how inaccessible Vassar was when she entered as a first-year, and she hopes ACCESS can help minimize the accessibility inequalities faced by so many students. “I felt so alone when I entered college. I didn’t know how many people at Vassar shared similar experiences and it would have been so helpful to have an org like this as a freshman.” She added, “Some Professors also really have no idea what it means to be disabled and they need a lot of education.”

She added, “Accessibility and disability as an identity are two relatively new concepts that the general population really don’t understand yet. In other words, the issues at Vassar are not isolated to this campus but are issues faced by us everywhere.”

For the upcoming semester, Freilich said ACCESS is just getting started on its agenda. “We have a lot of big goals that will most likely take years to implement,” she said. “For this semester, we would like to improve the freshman [first year] orientation for the Fall of 2023 for those students with a disability. We would like to create mandatory training for Professors on disabled students’ needs and accommodations.”

Das emphasized the journey towards the goals that ACCESS aspires to achieve. She said, “My hope is that this club can be a safe space for students with disabilities and that we are able to create a space where we can celebrate disability,” adding, “Having a place where I can not only accept my disability, but rather celebrate it, has been a very special experience and I hope that other students can have that too.  “

Boswell ensured, “Anyone is welcome (and encouraged!) to join ACCESS, regardless of disability status. We simply ask that you come with an open mind and a willingness to help us achieve our goals. Our members will sometimes share stories that are very personal to them, so respect and trust are also essential.”

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