Professors: disabilities are forms of diversity

With organizations constantly pushing forward for disability rights and accommodations in the world, two Seton Hall professors, Dr. Eunyoung Kim and Dr. Aquino, worked together to change the discussion involving people with disabilities.

Their book, “Disability as Diversity in Higher Education: Policies and Practices to Enhance Student Success,” aims to describe disability as a form of diversity as opposed to simply people with physical or mental impediments. Kim, associate professor in the College of Education and Human Services and editor of the book, said that there is not enough research currently on people with disabilities in post-secondary education.

Drs. Eunyoung Kim (pictured) and Katherine Aquino wrote a book on disabilities and diversity.
Photo courtesy of Drs. Eunyong Kim and Katherine Aquino

The book’s goal is to “provide an understanding that disability intersects with diversity and think about ways in which higher education institutions can be more inclusive and welcoming,” Kim said.

She added that what is important to her as a professor is accommodating students with disabilities in accordance with respect for students with disabilities and seeing them reach their full potential.

“I think it’s also important to use language carefully that puts the importance on the student rather than the disability in the classroom,” Kim said.

A contributing writer, Dr. Susan Gabel, professor of inclusive education at Wayne State University in Michigan, said that getting to know everyone around you, versus a select few, teaches everyone skills important for living in a diverse society.

“The inclusion of people with disabilities allows everyone to better understand the full range of human diversity,” she said.

Gabel explained there is a lack of resources and paths for students with disabilities while studying at a university. She said about 10 percent of students have disabilities, but a small percentage of that group acknowledge the service provided on their campus.

Gabel suggested providing accommodations to everyone, based on specific needs. She explained that even students without disabilities often have special circumstances.

“Students who have families might need extra time to do an assignment because a child is sick at home or a student whose first language isn’t English might need information presented in multiple formats to allow him to access the information,” Gabel said.

As Kim took note of the various needs of students, this prompted her to ask further questions.

“Does our college have ramps that are usable? Does a college pay attention to career development for students with disabilities through career exploration and other forms of career services? A lot more work is ahead of us,” Kim said regarding the origins of her research.

Kim’s partner in this research and the book’s co-editor, Dr. Katherine Aquino, said her goal was to change the perception of disability on the postsecondary level. According to Aquino, it is not “a limitation in one’s life, but instead, a positive component of their identity.”

She said she hopes the book will increase conversations and advocacy for students with disabilities, widening the scope of what it means to live with a disability. The book is available on the Routledge website or on Amazon.

Erika Szumel can be reached at Erika.szumel@student.shu.edu.

Author: Erika Szumel

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