Mercer Cluster

New initiative to help disabled students navigate Mercer

Flyer provided by ABLE Mercer.

Flyer provided by ABLE Mercer.

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ABLE Mercer is an initiative to help disabled students navigate Mercer’s campus. The program aims to be a mentoring program between incoming freshmen and current Mercer students.    

A week before the fall 2018 semester, the program will pair up a current Mercer student as a mentor with an incoming disabled student as a mentee. The mentor can be any Mercer student, disabled or not. They will help the incoming student with the transition into Mercer and provide tools for self-advocacy and social issues they may face.

Sophomore Johna Wright, who has been legally blind since birth, said she found herself having issues becoming acclimated to Mercer and “felt alone in the process.” She founded ABLE Mercer so that she will be able to help incoming students from feeling the same way, she said.

“I feel like it’s my obligation as someone with a disability to advocate for other people who have disabilities to make sure their experience is a lot better than mine,” Wright said.

She said she created the organization after presenting her idea to the Visionary Student Panel, which is a pitching competition held every fall hosted by Research That Reaches Out, the Mercer initiative that helps undergraduates solve real-world problems through research. Students give a five minute presentation about an issue of interest and what they plan to do in order to address that issue.

In her presentation, Wright outlined several existing programs in public high schools that are aimed at helping students transition into the workforce. She used this to demonstrate the need for a program like ABLE Mercer at higher education institutions.  

“While these programs are essential, it leaves an entire population of students with disabilities—those who plan to attend a four-year residential college—without the right kind of life skill development to help them succeed as they pursue higher education,” Hannah Vann, Associate Director of the QEP, said about Wright’s presentation during the Visionary Student Panel.

Wright said she went on to win the competition and finalized a grant proposal which led to Research That Reaches Out funding her project.

The inspiration for Wright’s project comes from her own experiences with Mercer’s campus and the difficulties she faced navigating it, she said.

“(Mercer’s Campus) does make it very, very difficult for students with disabilities and makes us feel sort of alienated from the rest of campus when it’s not accessible to us,” Wright said.  

Wright hopes to take ABLE Mercer a step further and form a campus organization that advocates for students with disabilities and focuses on current issues around Mercer and outside of campus.

“I hope that the ABLE Mercer program would be able to run every summer consecutively after this one,” Wright said.

Mentors for the program will begin training in late March to early April so they can better understand how to approach students with different disabilities and make sure their mentees are hitting the milestones they have predetermined. The mentors will help with getting their mentee involved in Mercer and other social interactions.

The program is set to begin this summer and last through the fall semester.

As well as working closely with Research That Reaches Out, Wright said she is also working with Access and Accommodations to create a curriculum and format for training mentors. She said she is also working with Mercer Admissions and Residence Life to finalize the details of the program.

“Be open to things,” Wright said as advice to future mentors. “You’re going to learn a lot from your mentee. Even though you’re the mentor, they are going to teach you way more than you’ll probably teach them.”

The applications to become a mentor for ABLE Mercer are on all class Facebook pages, the Research That Reaches Out Facebook page and in Bear Blurbs.

You can also access the application here.

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New initiative to help disabled students navigate Mercer