Section: News

Students with disabilities, chronic illnesses find community

Students with disabilities, chronic illnesses find community

courtesy of Hannah Sussman

On Wednesday, the Disabled/Chronically Ill Student Community Organization (DISCO), which Student Council approved on Oct. 30, held its first official meeting. DISCO, founded by Hannah Sussman ’25, aims to provide a supportive community to students with disabilities and chronic illnesses, as well as advance the state of accessibility on Kenyon’s campus.

DISCO’s creation comes in the midst of Student Accessibility and Support Services’ (SASS) yearlong Disability = Diversity campaign, which aims to spread awareness of disabilities through posters, workshops and panels. The most recent event, a presentation titled “Living and Working with a Disability,” discussed navigating disabilities in the workplace for National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2022. 

Sussman, however, said that she has had trouble finding adequate support for her disability at Kenyon — the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) has no programs specifically aimed at students with disabilities. She hopes that DISCO can take steps to change that, adding that she had already had some success: Earlier this year, DISCO worked with SASS in establishing a pre-orientation program for students with disabilities and chronic illnesses, which was a great success.

Although “Disabled & Chronically Ill Support Group” existed as an unofficial student group last year, Sussman took the steps to make it an official organization in the fall after her positive experience at its meetings, saying that the group gave her a space to express her experiences with an invisible disability in a shared community.

“At a school like Kenyon, having a disability felt like something I needed to hide and overcome. I felt like I had tricked someone to get to Kenyon, and that showing my disability might mean showing I didn’t really belong. Thankfully, through talking with other students with disabilities and or chronic illnesses, I was able to find a community of people who accepted me and understood me,” Sussman wrote in an all-student email advertising the organization.

Sussman looks forward to partnering with other campus offices and organizations — such as ODEI and the Cox Health and Counseling Center — to expand DISCO’s scope as the organization develops. She added that along with broader campus-wide initiatives, DISCO strives to provide individual students with personal resources, such as the tools to advocate for themselves when asking for extensions or excused absences. 

She urged students not to let worries that they don’t fit the description of “disabled” keep them from attending meetings, encouraging anyone who self-identifies as having a disability or chronic illness to join. “This is a really good place to figure out whether these tips apply to you [and] whether you might need access to this community,” she said in an interview with the Collegian.

Meetings will alternate between virtual and in-person to accommodate immunocompromised students, and will include discussions, community-building and planning initiatives to bring more inclusivity and accessibility to Kenyon. Around 10 students showed up to the first meeting, and Sussman predicts this number will grow. 

“There are a lot of great resources at Kenyon, but right now they are not being directed towards students with disabilities/chronic illnesses,” Sussman wrote in an email to the Collegian. “I hope that through DISCO other students are able to share their experiences and direct their energies towards changing the systems around them rather than themselves.”

Students interested in joining DISCO’s email list can contact Sussman at sussman3@kenyon.edu.

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