By Edan Armas
Across Stanford’s campus, different student affinity groups have access to physical spaces that support the interests of those individual communities. To name a few, the Latino, female, Jewish and Muslim student populations and their allies look to El Centro, the Women’s Community Center, Hillel and The Markaz, respectively, for locations to come together. Soon, students with disabilities may have a similar space of their own.
Zina Jawadi ’18, co-president of Stanford’s disability advocacy group, Power2ACT, was excited to announce earlier this month that the group had officially begun searching for a physical space on campus. According to Jawadi, the purpose of the space is to give students with disabilities the ability to socialize, study and “foster discussions about disability through a centralized, dedicated location.”
If the group successfully establishes a space, it will mark the first time students with disabilities have had somewhere to call a community center since the late 1990s, when a conference room that has since been abandoned served as one such center.
“The disability community is very fragmented,” said co-president of Power2ACT Kartik Sawhney ’17. “We want to have this safe space that [students with disabilities] can come to to share their frustrations but also to just come and study — you know, to just come and chill.”
In a meeting with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE), Sawhney and Jawadi, the administration mentioned that the current space search is intended for a temporary solution working towards something more sustainable. The long-term solution includes finding staff, acquiring funding and improving accessibility of the center.
Both Jawadi and Sawhney emphasized the fact that a physical space would serve all students with disabilities on campus, cognizant of the diversity present in mental and physical disabilities as students with disabilities themselves. Jawadi is hearing-impaired, and Sawhney has been blind since birth. The two Power2ACT leaders relayed their passions for helping students with disabilities ranging from physical disabilities to hearing impairment to less visible disabilities like dyslexia.
Bryce Tuttle ’20, a member of the ASSU Disability Committee who lives with dyslexia, finds a physical community for students with disabilities to be necessary.
“Connecting with other Stanford students who are going through the same struggles would make me feel more welcome on campus,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle noted that he has observed a discomfort when Stanford students engage in conversations about disabilities, especially about learning disabilities that impact academics like dyslexia. He added that such a discomfort often feels isolating.
Carleigh Kude, a disability advisor at OAE, explained how this discomfort is often rooted in self-image for people with disabilities. While 20 percent of American adults self-identify as being disabled, only 11 percent of college students do. According to Kude, this underrepresentation indicates a view of disability as an “imperfection.”
The importance of a physical space to double as a social center is clear to all the students with disabilities whose perspectives contributed to this article. A majority of these students recognized the difficulty of interacting in social situations with disabilities. Parties hosted at fraternity houses or in dorm rooms often do not support accommodations to help students with disabilities operate comfortably.
Chloe Keliers ’19, who has hearing loss, acknowledged feeling awkward in explaining to her non-disabled peers the accommodations that help her.
“I’m like a deer in headlights,” Keliers said.
For the co-presidents of Power2ACT, the divide experienced by Stanford students with disabilities and students without disabilities is one of the most important reasons to make a disabled community center a reality on campus.
“A physical space,” Jawadi said, “will strengthen the disability community, allow students without disabilities to think about disability and also send a powerful message about the importance of supporting disability causes in Silicon Valley and nationwide.”