ABLE Mercer had their first official meeting on Feb. 12 where they discussed future plans, goals and wishes for the club.
Co-Presidents Ashley Pettway, a junior psychology major, and Sarah Carter, a sophomore pre-nursing student, led the informational meeting. One of the primary goals for the club is to get more involved with the disabled community in and around Mercer.
“We got in touch with … some churches around the area, although we are not a religiously affiliated organization at all. Disability is often found within the church community, so we are planning to do outreach to some churches to reach that community,” Carter said.
ABLE Mercer said they plan to make church outreach one of their long-term community projects.
“With this idea of Mercer being a place where everyone majors in making a change, we want to try to do good for disabled people on Mercer’s campus and in the local Macon community,” Pettway said.
The organization also hopes to get involved with the Access and Accommodations office on campus in order to discuss some issues students have been facing on campus.
“We want to discuss some of the problems students have been facing and ableism on campus. We’re talking about some of the website issues, and Katie Johnson (Director and ADA/504 Coordinator for Access and Accommodations) told us that they are currently working on a sensitivities training course on Canvas for professors. We’re also going to try to get involved with Mercer’s Freshman Orientation to help bring in more disabled students. We want them to know that there is a community here on campus that cares about them,” Pettway said.
Both Pettway and Carter said there is a need for more elevators on campus, especially in Willingham. Pettway said that on a basic infrastructure level, there are little things that tend to be missed.
“We were actually told by Johna Wright, who was in charge when ABLE Mercer was a mentor/mentee program that, because she had seeing issues, some of the Braille on some of the signs is incorrect. It’s just little stuff like that that few people realize. It’s just really little things that people miss, probably because there are no disabled people on the board who check over these things,” Pettway said.
Carter and Pettway also said that the drainage on campus causes serious mobility issues for disabled students, keeping them from being able to go where they need to at times. Because the club is based on disability advocacy, one of the requirements for being president is to have a disability, Carter said.
“Disability advocacy programs often don’t have people with a disability in leadership positions,” Pettway said. “A good example is Autism Speaks that usually focuses around parents with autistic children instead of the actual autistic children. This is very problematic because it creates ableist rhetoric or this sense of looking down on people. It’s so important that we have disabled people in these leadership positions so that they can support their own advocacy.”
ABLE Mercer is a newer club that started this January, as it originally was a mentor/mentee program used to help increase graduation rates for disabled students. While relatively new, both co-presidents outlined some major changes that they believe ABLE Mercer can help make in the coming years.
“I think another important thing is just to bring awareness that disabled people exist on campus because the thing about most of the disabled people on this campus is that they are not physically disabled. There are invisible disabilities that you just can’t see. When people can’t see a disability, they tend not to think about it or even tend not to think about disabled people in general,” Pettway said.
Carter also said that some changes in the Access and Accommodations office would help both Mercer students and faculty alike.
“There are only two people that work in the Access and Accommodations office along with the student workers, so most people don’t understand how many (students with disabilities) there are on campus. People don’t understand how overworked they are. It would be great to have more funding for that too,” Carter said. “It would also be nice to spread more awareness of what all the Access and Accommodations office can help with.”
Carter and Pettway both said they are happy with how things are going for the new club so far.
“I’ve never been in this position before, where I’m the one making all the decisions or planning everything. While it is a lot of work, when things finally do come through, it’s just really satisfying,” Pettway said.