Penn students founded a disability advocacy group this semester, responding to what they say is a lack of sufficient University-sponsored disability services.
Disability Advocacy @ Penn's leaders said their goals are to strengthen the sense of belonging among Penn students with disabilities and work with University administrators to improve services for students with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities. Pressuring Penn to improve access to transportation services and physical locations on campus is a future goal of the club, but DAP’s founders said they are focusing on community-building for this spring semester.
“Our goal is to just create a common space where anyone with any range of disabilities can just come in and talk about their experience at Penn, how it feels to be a student at Penn, working with [Student Disabilities Services] and how that feels, and how it feels when you’re out in classes, not with people with disabilities," College first-year and DAP co-founder Kruti Desai said.
Desai and DAP co-founder and College junior Emma Ronzetti said the group hopes to create a Penn-themed survival guide before the upcoming fall semester to help students with disabilities in the incoming first-year class. The guide will help students navigate around campus and use resources such as Student Disabilities Services and Weingarten Learning Resources Center.
“Sometimes the process is so confusing that a [first-year] coming into campus is completely overwhelmed, so it would be really nice to have mentors to help them out,” said Ronzetti.
Ronzetti and College junior and DAP co-founder Elizabeth Kim said that they came up with the idea for DAP after discussing the lack of community among Penn students with disabilities. Kim said she gained a valuable sense of belonging while interning with the Lime Connect Fellowship Program for Students with Disabilities last summer, a feeling she said she lacked after returning to Penn.
Kim said becoming close with other members of the disability community was a life-changing experience for her.
“I feel like Penn lacks a community because there are a lot of people with disabilities, but many are scared to admit that they have one, which I completely understand, because there’s a stigma around having one,” said Kim.
Ronzetti, a former sports reporter for The Daily Pennsylvanian, said 30 to 40 students attended the first two DAP meetings.
Desai and Ronzetti said Penn creates additional burdens for students with disabilities because they said there is an inadequate standardized process for students to receive accommodations from the University.
Ronzetti said receiving accommodations from the University is a "very individual, isolated, [and] alone process."
“My hearing disability hasn’t changed from the spring to fall semester, but I need to figure out my accommodations with my advisor every single semester,” Ronzetti said.
Desai said there is a lack of common absence policies for students with physical or cognitive disabilities. She added that Penn’s Accessible Transit system for students with physical disabilities is unreliable.
“Most of the time the vans do not come, and we end up having to walk to classes,” Desai said.
Ronzetti also said the ARCH Building, home to the 6B Coalition, is difficult to access for students with physical disabilities. She added that DAP has had discussions with members of the 6B who are pushing to have the building redone.
Kim said a long-term goal she wants DAP to pursue is to lobby for Penn to open a physical space on campus for students with disabilities.