My letter about the MSU Student Association

This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.

I’m sorry I’m one day late, but here it is.

SA should have disability group

http://media.www.reflector-online.com/media/storage/paper938/news/2009/02/17/Opinion/Sa.Should.Have.Disability.Group-3632850.shtml

The Student Association traditionally includes a cabinet position called Students with Disabilities Affairs (SDA). In recent years, SA presidential candidates have run on platforms that have included reducing the size of the cabinet. To achieve this, Students with Disabilities Affairs was combined with Student Health and Wellness (SHW). United Students, a student organization made up of students with disabilities on campus, has since proposed this was not an appropriate combination. This essay will explain why United Students members and friends disagree with the combination of SDA with SHW.

Students with disabilities share similar experiences, concerns and challenges. In the disability community, this is known as disability culture. Just as members of the Indian Student Association share a culture different than the majority of MSU students, students with disabilities also form a minority group on campus. This is the way students with disabilities see themselves. While having a disability does involve physical or mental impairments, people with disabilities see their way of life as the central characteristic of having a disability. Indeed, people with disabilities may have innumerably different impairments and conditions, but many find common ground in their culture.

Understanding how people with disabilities see themselves - as a minority group with its own culture - is important to understanding why they would not want disability concerns to be addressed under the banner of student health. As unintentional as it may be, the inclusion of disability programs under SHW seems to portray disability as a health issue more than a culture issue. As such, it seems to the members and friends of United Students that a combination of SDA with Minority Student Affairs would be a more appropriate combination.

Better still, the SA could keep the Students with Disabilities Affairs position. With the right person, this position has the potential to be very beneficial to the SA and the university. There are more than 200 students with disabilities at MSU. Pushing for accessible events and an accessible campus should be a priority of the SDA. It should plan creative awareness-building events that help bring down the social divides. Mississippi State University is known, even by its in-state competitors, as the state’s most accessible, disability-friendly university. Students have played a significant role in achieving that status. The SA should do now what it has done for many disabled students past: empower them.