Student Haillie Erhardt recently asked President Crawford and the Miami University community to consider changing the name of Student Disability Services (SDS) because of the stigma associated with using services from an office with the word “disability” in its name. While SDS and the Students with Disabilities Advisory Council (SDAC) honor Erhardt’s commitment to an inclusive, just environment at Miami and affirm her observations about the stigma surrounding disability, we feel that removing “disability” from Student Disability Services would not be the best choice for the Miami community.
We acknowledge that the stigma associated with disability is very real and feel that the true injustice lies not in the use of “disability” as a descriptor or identity, but rather in how society perceives the term and those who identify with it. In fact, disability does not mean someone is broken, and it certainly does not mean that person is inferior.
Therefore, we believe removing the word “disability” from SDS’ name may perpetuate the stigma by implying that disability should be hidden or minimized. In addition, we feel that another name, such as “Student Accessibility Services,” is not only more nebulous but also might be construed as euphemistic. As euphemisms often do, this terminology could stifle, rather than enrich, our campus’ culture surrounding disability.
As a campus, we have more work to do to embrace disability as both a term and an identity — to educate, rather than avoid. In fact, the word “disability” has a positive history outside of Miami as a term used to identify the Disability Rights Movement, Disability Studies, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD).
SDS not only works within these and other frameworks to provide services to students who have disabilities, but is also passionate about educating the university community about the social movements surrounding disability. To that end, SDS has partnered with Miami’s nationally recognized Disability Studies minor and SDAC, a student organization working to educate faculty, staff, and students about disability culture and provide a sense of community for students with disabilities. Miami also celebrates an annual Kate Welling Disability Awareness Lecture that brings compelling, high-profile scholars to campus.
“Disability” is the word that links these efforts and brings people and programs together at Miami. We believe changing the name of SDS will disrupt this cohesion, dissociating the office from other initiatives meant to bring the disability community together.
We agree with Erhardt that emphasizing accessibility is paramount, but disagree with her assessment that it is unfortunate that “people who are registered with the SDS are seen by many, as disabled.” As students with disabilities and the professionals who work with them, we have witnessed firsthand that disability can become a positive part of one’s identity as opposed to a deficit.
Erhardt’s letter comes at an important time for SDS. The office relocated to Shriver Center this semester, and we hope new opportunities will accompany the new space. Recently, SDS and SDAC have been exploring ways to utilize some of this space in Shriver as a location for students and members of the Miami community to gather, engage, and learn about disability in a cultural and historical context. We envision this space following the example of Miami’s Women’s and Multicultural Centers.
SDS and SDAC recognize that there is so much more to disability — and to identifying as an individual with a disability — than simply receiving accommodations. We want to celebrate disability and difference rather than obscuring or diminishing it. With these goals in mind, we feel that the name “Student Disability Services” encompasses the disability experience most thoroughly, is therefore more inclusive, and better fits the community and tradition of disability at Miami.
Student Disability Services
Students with Disabilities Advisory Council