Portland State students formed a new alliance and advocacy group for students and community members with disabilities. The Disability Alliance organized after the Disability Resource Center in Smith Memorial Student Union lost its community space in recent years to make room for more administrative offices.
Part of the group’s mission statement is “to unite PSU disabled students and their allies in the struggle against the oppression of disabled people (ableism) at the University, in the United States, and worldwide.”
According to DRC Director Jen Dugger, 11 percent of incoming PSU students identify as needing accommodations. This number, she added, continues to rise along with national averages as outlined in the most recent Cooperative Institutional Research Program Freshman Survey.
Dugger explained that partly due to the increase in PSU students with accommodation needs, the DRC offices have expanded to accommodate more staff, making the community space no longer available. Because of this, Dugger said, the DRC has not been able to function in the same manner as other resource centers on campus.
For some students like DA Primary Communications Officer endever* corbin [correct spelling], this community space is exactly what is needed to combat the feelings of isolation they say many PSU students with disabilities may feel.
“My not-so-secret dream is that someday we can advocate for an actual community space on campus similar to the [Queer Resource Center],” corbin said. “[This means] a space where disabled bodies and brains are the norm, somewhere we can relax and be ourselves and co-create ways of supporting each other and organize ourselves for political action.”
Associated Students of Portland State University has recently supported donating part of their office on the first floor of SMSU to the DRC for use as community space. The $73,000 project was recently approved by the Smith Advisory Board, and the DRC hopes to begin construction this summer, pending approval from the Space Allocation Committee and further reviews of the construction plans. Dugger said she would also like to see a library of resources for disabled students built into this new space. The QRC’s community room is set up in a similar manner.
The need for community space is just one of the group’s goals. corbin said the DA hopes to educate the general student and staff population about what ableism looks like and how to eliminate it on campus.
corbin was inspired to create the DA after attending a leadership seminar from the Autism Self Advocacy Network. corbin “learned a ton there about the history of the disability rights movement, political issues currently facing disabled Americans and skills necessary for campus organizing.”
Additionally, the DA is working on identifying and advocating for solutions to barriers students with disabilities encounter across campus. For example, according to corbin, The Testing Center is often not able to accommodate all students needing it, and many doors on campus still lack assisted opening mechanisms. As the group continues to grow, corbin said it will add more areas of concern to the list. Specific campaigns to address current issues are in the works.
The DA is still actively recruiting. Students interested in attending meetings at 2:30 p.m. every Friday can email [email protected] for meeting locations.