ODR Reform, Obility Strengthens Dis/Ability Justice at Oberlin

When talking about dis/ability justice on this campus, it is so easy to focus on everything that is not working. It is so easy to focus on the classmates who will not join us next year due to the institution’s failure to accommodate them. Yet for the first time, I also feel an overwhelming amount of support and optimism for dis/ability justice at Oberlin College. I am thankful for all of the students for organizing. While there is still much more work to do on the administrative end, I am grateful for all of the support that is emerging. Also, I am thankful for the administration, the Office of Disability Resources, and these students for all working toward making Oberlin accessible — or at least closer to it. Everyone is working hard, even though many of these important activists have to balance their everyday roles as students — frequently with a limited amount of spoons.

I feel supported by the administration because of their willingness to support programming. One example of their support is the upcoming revival of the Student Accessibility Advocate program. The SAA program was founded in 2012 and pays upperclassmen with dis/abilities to mentor underclassmen who were figuring out how to navigate Oberlin with a dis/ability. It dissolved at the beginning of September, after the Office of Disability Services became the Office of Disability Resources. Not only does the Student Health and Wellness working group — a committee under the umbrella of Student Senate focusing on accessibility initiatives at Oberlin — want to bring back this program, but it also wants to improve it to reach a greater number of students. The committee was excited to hear that it would be given monetary resources by Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo to potentially use for both SAA as well as to pay students for potential activism projects on campus. In addition, the Office of Disability Resources has provided much support for this project as well as others. María Zoraida Maclay has been meeting with many of the student activists and helping them with their projects of interest.

In addition, the Oberlin Mental Health Alliance revamping has been facilitated by Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Health Promotion for Students Edward Gisemba. OMHA has been a student organization since 2009. However, it has not been active in the past two academic years. Gisemba has been working with student leaders to bring back a space for students with mental health conditions to come together, support each other, and teach other community members about mental health. They are currently focusing on throwing a de-stressing event with other student organizations during finals week.

Most of all, I feel optimistic due to all of the more experienced students on this campus who are helping everyone organize and make dis/ability justice visible. This organizing manifests in many ways and is at various planning stages for each group. One such initiative is the Obility newsletter. This newsletter will help people who feel compelled to work on accessibility-related projects connect with one another as well as stay updated on dis/ability-related news.

A couple of student organizations relating to dis/ability are also in the process of being chartered. Obility, for one, will be a space for all people to take action and build community. It will also provide leadership opportunities to dis/abled students. In addition, there is going to be a theme hall for Dis/ability Solidarity next year in Burton Hall. This is one of the first-ever themed halls of its nature. The energy and time being put into all of these projects is exciting. Students with all different levels of experience working on dis/ability justice activism are able to use their strengths to help get these programs off the ground.

A great example of dis/ability justice that has been happening this semester is the Deaf Culture ExCo, which holds regular American Sign Language lunches and organizes relevant events.

While I am more optimistic about the support given, there is still so much work to do to eradicate institutional ableism at Oberlin. The Dis/ability Solidarity hall was originally placed in a hall with no one-person rooms. How can a hall centered around dis/ability justice exist without access to such a necessary accommodation? Members of the dis/abled community frequently raise concerns about the inaccessibility of receiving proper documentation and the lack of prospects for a director of Office of Disability Resources. All of these problems exist, but with all the new faces, energy, and support, I feel a little bit optimistic about these issues rather than just overwhelmed.

Oberlin is headed in the right direction, but there is certainly more work to be done and many ways people can get involved. To start, you could take the SAA survey to add your opinions to the conversation. You could also come to Obility, OMHA, or Student Health and Wellness meetings. These organizations all care greatly about the issues mentioned above and more. Finally, keep asking questions and pushing others to make spaces in Oberlin more accessible. There are so many things left to do, but it is a nice change of pace to have so much talent and positive energy working toward