Ashford University is proud to show you our PAWs. That is, our Promoting Awareness and Wellness initiative! Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.
October 2011 – Disability Employment Awareness Month
20 Years of Access and Awareness in Higher Education
by Poppy Fitch
Above: The chance to arrive at this day is an opportunity no one should be denied.
When it comes to planning for the future, many students have enough on their plates without any added source of concern. However, for the one in five Americans who have a disability, or who will experience one at some point in their lives, the daunting reality exists that those with disabilities experience an average poverty rate of nearly double the non-disabled population (US Census).
As Associate Director of our Office of Student Access and Wellness, I think about how to help create a better future for students with disabilities every day. Thankfully, in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created, providing disabled Americans - including students in college and university settings - with protection against discrimination, and with better access.
The last few years have seen a flurry of activity in the landscape of access for students with disabilities. In 2008, Congress passed amendments to the ADA that clarified and reiterated who is covered by the law's civil rights protections, creating the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. In an effort to restore the spirit of the law, this act revised the definition of disability to more broadly encompass impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. The 2010 ADA Regulations then began implementing the amendments, taking effect on March 15, 2011. And last year, the ADA celebrated its 20th anniversary. View President Obama's public service announcement regarding this historic event:
For me, the benefits of these historic pieces of legislation have come alive in the stories of students with disabilities who are pursuing higher education in order to improve their lives. In the early 1990s when the ADA was fresh legislation, I was a college student studying at a community college in San Diego. One of my first graduations was spent acting as a mobility assistant for a student who was blind and completing his Associate's degree. This accomplishment was no small feat, as he'd managed his studies before the ADA's provisions, and without assistive technology. I was in awe of this student, and inspired by his determination to achieve a goal that would no doubt enhance the opportunities available to him in his future. Being a small part of his accomplishment gave me inspiration, and put me on course to continue my own journey of supporting students with disabilities in college and university settings for the next 20 years.
After ten years of graduation ceremonies and a treasure trove of student successes, the events of September 11, 2001 occurred and subsequently reshaped the dialog happening on college and university campuses. Still at the community college at that time, I was working with a young woman with autism who would be graduating as the valedictorian of her class. Her commencement address was one of the most powerful I have ever experienced. It spoke of an urgency to move toward peace, and encouraged us all to "sit together at the table of understanding" (Goddard, 2002). This speech, filled with very personal themes but also with a poetic universality, left few dry eyes among the audience.
It was only a few months later when my second daughter Katie, ironically, was diagnosed with autism just short of her third birthday. Here was a clear sign that my professional path to this point had simply been preparation for the personal work that lay ahead for me. As a parent, I worried for Katie's future, for the prejudice that she would endure, and for the pain she would experience as a result of her differences. When I struggled to understand her, I always remembered the themes of understanding within that special commencement address.
During these past years, the ADA has served as a personal reminder for me of the importance of civil rights protections in order to ensure access to the possibility of a bright future for all. During the past decade, my worries for Katie's future have eased, being replaced with a sense of hope and optimism inspired primarily by my up close and personal view of the power of education to improve lives. In 2007, I graduated from San Diego State University with a Master's in Education Counseling with my daughters cheering me on.
Right: The author on her own graduation day with her two daughters, Katie and Hannah.
Working at Ashford University has brought new challenges and exciting opportunities. Supporting students here means ensuring accessible technology, and being a support to a team of staff and faculty who are aware and engage with students to see the goals of the ADA - access and non-discrimination - at work. It feels good to do meaningful work every day and to be fortunate enough to hear the stories of countless lives positively impacted by the transformative power of education.
This coming October, I will have the honor of participating in another moving graduation ceremony. One of my very first students at Ashford University, Ms. Candyce Scatchell (spotlighted below), will graduate, earning her Master of Arts in Education. Told by advisors at another college that she couldn't realize her dream of being a teacher because her disability of cerebral palsy was a liability, she is living proof of the power of resolve. In supporting Candy in her educational endeavors, a warm relationship has developed. Her sense of optimism and good-natured humor has brightened my day and lifted my spirits more often than she knows, and I have never even met her in person! Candy is an online student at Ashford, and the access she is afforded here has allowed her to realize her dream.
Poppy Fitch is the Associate Director for the Office of Student Access and Wellness for Ashford University. Her professional career in higher education disability support and personal career as mother to Katie, 12, and Hannah, 13, are her passions. For more information about services for students with disabilities, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashford University Student Spotlight - Candyce Scatchell
Candyce Scatchell, 57, lives in Melrose Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. For the last thirty-two years, Candyce has worked in various capacities for Morton College. "I worked 18 years as a police dispatcher, was the switchboard operator for six years, and am currently working in the Individual Learning Center." At the center, which provides tutoring and make-up testing, Candyce serves as a mentor for special needs students. "I really enjoy that part of my job because I also have a disability. I was born with cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair as needed. The students feel comfortable around me, and I love them, so it's a great mix."
A few years ago, Candyce decided it was time to earn a college education, and she attended community college to earn her Associate's degree. She then turned her attention to online education opportunities, and found Ashford University. In May 2009, she completed her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and immediately enrolled in Ashford's Master of Arts in Education online program, which she completed in August 2011. "The main reason I decided to obtain both my undergraduate and Master's degrees," says Candyce, "was to prove to myself that I could do it. I am just like everyone else, despite my disability. I'm not handicapped. I'm handi-capable."
Reflecting on her experience with Ashford, Candyce says the greatest challenge with online education is staying focused. "It is easy to become distracted or to slack off because the entire program is online. The trick is to keep motivated and to not give up." Candyce says her determination was met with support on all sides. "Ashford University cares about student success. In addition to academics, they encouraged me with faith, compassion, and love. It was an honor to don the cap and gown."
Candyce plans to continue working with the special needs population at her job, and she hopes to teach online in the future.
- President Obama's ADA Anniversary PSA. (2010, July 26). YouTube. Video retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/v/PZ7ZGXNYNlk?fs=1&hl=en_US
- ADA Home Page. (n.d.) Retrieved September 15, 2010 from the US Department of Justice website, http://www.ada.gov/
- Office for Civil Rights: Questions and Answers. (2009, March 27). Retrieved September 15, 2010 from the US Department of Education website,http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html.
- The ADA Amendments Act of 2008. (2008, September 25). Retrieved September 15, 2010 from the United States Access Board website,http://www.access-board.gov/about/laws/ada-amendments.htm
- The ADA 2010 Regulations, (2010, September 15). Retrieved August 1, 2011 from the US Department of Justice website,http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/ADAregs2010.htm