Penn graduate students advocate for disability education
The alumni created the Disability Student Interest Group last spring
October 16, 2013, 4:11 pm · Updated October 16, 2013, 8:05 pm·
After realizing the lack of disability-related education in their curriculum, students in the School of Social Policy & Practice decided to make a change.
Natalie Stollon and Katherine Streit, both 2013 School of Social Policy & Practice graduates, created the Disability Student Interest Group last spring. Their main motivation was that many classes offered by the School of Social Policy & Practice focused very little on disability related issues.
Caren Steinway, secretary for DSIG and second year dual degree master of social work and public health candidate, share the founding members’ concerns, saying that “a lot of people realized [disability education] wasn’t emphasized in most of our other classes…. we noticed there was a lack of awareness in our classmates, too.”
According to Stollon, this is also a problem in social work curricula in general.
This motivation to raise awareness in the curriculum remains a focus for the group even though the two founders have since left. Today, Emmaline Imbriglia and Lizzie Flanagan, both second year master of social work candidates, run the group.
Though established last spring, this semester is the student group’s first active one.
One of the first projects Flanagan and Imbriglia did in preparation for this semester was to gather articles about disability education and write proposals to have them placed in the master of social work curriculum. Today, two of these proposals have been accepted by the University, meaning several classes now include disability education in their syllabi.
In addition to academic motivations, there is also a considerable level of personal interest and passion within the group.
Stollon, one of the founders, has 10 years of experience in working with people with disabilities and their families. “I knew it was an area I was very interested in, and so I chose social work… It’s exciting to now have a common interest group—it’s great for the student body in general and the faculty and school to be receptive,” she said.
Imbriglia, the president, and Flanagan, the group’s vice president, also brought their past experiences in working with disabled people to the group.
Flanagan first became interested in working with the disabled when she was an undergraduate, “I worked for a year with a woman who was deaf and had multiple developmental disabilities. This was a great experience, and it opened my eyes to something I had no experience with and was very passionate about,” she said.
“I’m passionate about disabilities because I have an older brother who was born with multiple types of disabilities. He had a lot of support growing up, and has accomplished so much. We’re very close, and I want to be able to help other kids like him live to their fullest potential,” Imbriglia said.
Today, the group is working hard to spread their mission around campus. Most recently, they hung fliers in academic buildings that give short descriptions of potential problems caused by disabilities to raise awareness about the issue. They have also made October Disability Awareness Month at Penn, and plan to hold informational movie nights and bring in educational speakers to campus. The group will also be going to Villanova University in November to volunteer at the Special Olympics.
Flanagan said that they are still looking to grow. “Right now we are just in the social work program, but we are hoping to expand to the rest of the School of Social Policy, the Graduate School of Education, and the graduate student community.”
Steinway said she is “looking forward to seeing where it goes and what we can accomplish together.”