Under the Knife: SEAA sympathetic to ableism, mobility on campus

Two years ago, a determined and disabled student's requests were finally recognized and action was taken: Geneseo was forced to acknowledge the inaccessibility issue on campus and do something about it.

Fast-forward to today, and the interdisciplinary organization Students Educating About Ableism, headed by professor Linda Ware, continues to educate while advocating.

"Partially because the campus is so inaccessible, the goal that has developed out of that is to raise awareness interest in disability culture," said Hannah Birdsall, senior and public relations manager for SEAA.

Although Ware is co-chair of the Campus Personal Safety Committee, which originally recognized the disabled student's requests, there is not much she can advocate for unless students take initiative themselves. "If students don't voice the issue, then it doesn't get taken care of," Ware said. "It has to be heard by the committee - it cannot be raised by the committee."

The college has recently received a huge grant to be evaluated for Americans with Disabilities access. The campus will review the existing barriers going into academic buildings. This review, however, will not include the inside of dorms.

"It's been the law since 1974 [to have access for people with disabilities]," Ware said. "Any building made after 1974 on campus [without access] is in violation of the federal law."

As adviser, Ware finds it challenging to keep the club solely grounded in advocacy. "When students become disabled, they don't really want to say 'oh look, I'm disabled.' Americans don't ask for help; we don't know how to ask for help," Ware said. "We're keeping the educative part right next to the actions we're trying to bring attention to. We bring a different swath of students - I find it cool, very different."

In light of the Halloween spirit, the organization will travel to the Center for Disability Rights in Rochester for a trick-or-treating event for children who have disabilities. "A lot of kids with disabilities cannot go around trick-or-treating - it's just not an option, so they do it in the center and everyone's office is turned into a little funhouse … it's cute," Ware said.

"We will all dress up and go hand out candy," Birdsall added. She also said she encourages anyone to come, even if they are not a member of the club.

Eleanor McGrath, sophomore and secretary for SEAA, acknowledged that the organization is unlike any other group on campus. "It's a great way to foster an understanding of disability culture, and to attempt to make our campus more accessible," she said. "Plus, we always try to keep our topics relevant, current and fun! The group provides a way for both the campus and the community to come together over a topic that affects everyone."

"We tend to think of disability in terms of pity," Ware said. "We don't talk about disability with most people unless there's this sort of 'aww.' It's just not what people with disabilities want to be viewed as: objects of pity - it's just not what they're about."

SEAA meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in South Hall, Room 244. Anyone who is interested in advocating for awareness can find out more information by attending.