BY MOLLY ADAMSON
“Stepping stools are my life,” first-year Courtney Nelson said. “I have like 10 of them in my dorm room.”
Nelson has dwarfism and needs those stools to be able to reach things like bathroom sinks and her lofted bed.
Nelson is also a member of the Drake Disablility Action and Awareness Community (DAAC), which came to be an organization on campus last spring.
The group’s goal is to create a more inclusive community for students who have disabilities. This past Sunday, Nov. 6, it held a group discussion in Carpenter Hall to do just that.
The event invited able-bodied students and disabled students to come together to learn about the different disabilities students have on Drake University’s campus.
Students were split into small groups and given a sheet with information and questions about specific disabilities. Students with the organization then met with the groups to talk about their disability and answered any questions the students might have had.
Sophomore anthropology/sociology and writing double major Madeline Cheek went to the event.
“The most surprising thing I learned at this event was how far we still have to go on this campus to provide appropriate accommodations for people who need them,” Cheek said. “I always assumed that it was a fairly smooth and easy process to get accommodations, but I learned that it is a very long and challenging process.”
Students with disabilities meet with Student Disabilities Coordinator Michelle Laughlin as neccesary to make sure that their specific accommodations are met so that they can make the most out of their college experience.
These accommodations differ widely, but many students take extra time to take exams or require special equipment in order to achieve academically.
Senior politics and sociology double major Jackie Heymann is one of DAAC’s founding members. She has a learning disability that affects her life at Drake. She explained why this event was so important to her.
“On our campus, just in general, there is very little discussion about difference,” Heymann said. “Everyone just kind of goes about their daily life. And students might just be struggling on their own without ever engaging in a discussion with others that also have disabilities and accommodations. For folks who don’t have a disability, it’s important for them to realize that there are students who do have accommodations and don’t go about their normal life. Having conversations like this opens up an opportunity for students to think about how their fellow students go about their day. There’s no wrong way of doing something, and everyone kind of has to make their own accommodations.”
Annika Grassl, a senior law, politics and society and public relations double major, is the president of the organization.
Grassl has cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus, which affects her daily life on campus. She often has to pick the best route to get to her classes so that she doesn’t exhaust herself. As the president of DAAC, she is all about getting the word out about the reality of life with a disability.
“It’s important because you need to be aware (of) how your actions affect others and how your viewpoints are perceived by the general public,” Grassl said.
Grassl has high hopes for the organization after she leaves.
“I’m very confident that the organization will continue even after I leave,” Grassl said. “I’m so proud of the younger members who are stepping up in leadership roles and they have really bright ideas on where they want the organization to go.”