Students in SES 200 Learn About Disabilities in American Society In Order to Become Advocates for Social Change
By Rachel Williams
Students filed into class on a rainy November morning, trying their best to keep their posters dry from the downpours outside. It is the end of the semester, and for students taking ‘SES 200: People with Disabilities in American Society’, it is final project presentation day. Taught by assistant professor Dr. Bree Jimenez and Ph.D. student Tammy Barron, both from the Specialized Education Services department of the UNCG School of Education, SES 200 is a general education class offered each semester to students of all majors with the goals of providing a background on how people with disabilities have been treated throughout American history, as well as an understanding of current laws, regulations, and services offered to individuals with disabilities and the environmental and social challenges they face every day. But Dr. Jimenez wanted to do more than just educate her students – she wanted to inspire her students to become advocates for individuals with a disability, to their friends, their families, and to their community. ‘I wanted this course to create awareness, to get students to look at different perspectives and educate them on the history and background of disabilities in order to encourage the idea of being a part of social change’.
Every class day in SES 200 was different – in addition to studying Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations and articles identifying various disabilities, Dr. Jimenez wanted students to have an opportunity to hear from those in the community who have a disability, as well as from family members and professionals who provide critical services to disabled individuals in Greensboro. Students had the opportunity to connect with local advocates and agencies, including the Executive Director of Disability Rights NC, Parent advocate for transition services for people with Autism, and even a tour of the Industries of the Blind, Inc. facility. ‘Students have even been able to use their personal experiences with disability to support their coursework and share perspectives with their class colleagues’, said Dr. Jimenez. The class developed its own Twitter account, which provided an opportunity for students to comment on daily experiences outside of class where they noticed discrimination against or opportunities for improvement for disabled individuals. The final project for students was to research, develop and present on a topic in disability, whether it was a service organization, community accessibility, or a specific disability.
On presentation day in SES 200, all students were eager to present their projects and talk about what they had learned over the semester to their fellow classmates. Aryn Ladley, a sophomore pre-special education major, presented her research on bi-polar disorder. She wanted to learn more about emotional disabilities, and to be better informed in order to ‘stop the stigma against those with bi-polar disorder’. One popular subject presented that day was on Universal Design, which is the concept of creating products, buildings, and environments that are accessible to as many people as possible, including those with disabilities. Laura Burleson, a junior Social Work major, reviewed spaces on UNCG’s campus in regards to the aspects of Universal Design (Jackson Library’s Superlab, the Financial Aid office in Mossman, and Mendenhall Residence Hall), and presented her findings using a display of the three buildings, complete with windows to look inside and view photos of each of the buildings. Laura met with staff from each building and presented them with a checklist of Universal Design considerations to complete for their building. Overall, while each building met basic ADA requirements, she found there was room for improvement in some spaces. Laura chose Universal Design for her research because she ‘wanted to gain more knowledge on the topic and learn how to make a change’. She was pleased when a few of the staff members asked for her project research, so that they may reference her work for future building updates. Laura took SES 200 because she felt information learned in the class ‘will help me better serve clients in my field’.
For many in SES 200, their project presentation hit home. One student presented a case study of her young nephew who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and the challenges her family faces each day. Another student created a scrapbook project on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, inspired by her brother’s military experience during his deployment to Afghanistan. Kirsten Reel, a Junior Dual education major who presented on her work with the Beyond Academics program at UNCG, took SES 200 because ‘she had a preconceived notion regarding disabilities’, and the class ‘shows those of us with disabilities can do as much as everyone can do with the right knowledge’.
Overall, students in SES 200 felt the information learned in class this semester was extremely important for all UNCG students, no matter what career they were pursuing. Since this class was a general education course open to all enrolled UNCG students, there was a great diversity in the makeup of students, ranging from nursing and social work majors to architecture and business majors. And students were able to relate the class material to their future career in some aspect. When asked why she enrolled in SES 200, Kyndall Allred, a senior majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders who is planning on a career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, said ‘I enjoyed this course, because I was able to learn more about specific disabilities, like down syndrome and cerebral palsy in a school setting. Before taking this course, I only was concerned with what I would be doing in a school, hospital or private practice as a Speech-Language Pathologist and focused most of my learning on the speech impairments of those with disabilities. I guess you could say this course made my knowledge more general and broad, whereas before I had been so specific to speech and language.’ Marcy Rozelle, an adult-transfer sophomore majoring in Professions in Deafness with a concentration in Advocacy and Services for the Deaf, says ‘being a part of the SES 200 class this semester has been a truly invaluable experience. Over the course of the semester, we have explored, among other things, a wide variety of perspectives concerning people with disabilities, and discussed to what extent people with disabilities are affected by social and cultural values, attitudes, and policies. I feel very privileged to have had this amazing opportunity.’
Raymond Check presented on his experience volunteering with Dancing Above the Barre, which is a creative movement program for young children with disabilities sponsored by the Greensboro Ballet. He chose this program for his research because ‘I didn’t know dancing opportunities were out there for people with disabilities’ and enjoyed making a personal connection with one of the students named Rob. Although Raymond has never taken a dance class, he enjoyed his project experience in SES 200 because it gave him a personal experience ‘working with the students and developing that communication’ with the students he served. Raymond was preparing to take the stage in Dancing Above the Barre’s upcoming performance that weekend, even though his class project was complete. Was he nervous about his upcoming dance performance? ‘A little’, Raymond says, ‘but Rob gave me a thumbs up for the show and a kiss on the cheek’.
‘SES 200: People with Disabilities in American Society’ is a general education class offered fall and spring semesters open to all UNCG students provided by the Specialized Education Services department of the UNCG School of Education. For more information on courses of study and careers in specialized education, please visit http://ses.uncg.edu/.