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Week of February 25, 2013

At 30, Council for Disability Concerns keeps up with growing constituency

Known as the first of its kind in the nation, U-M’s Council for Disability Concerns marks its 30th anniversary in 2013 by drawing public attention to the surging number of “invisible” disabilities, among a range of initiatives.

Formed in 1983 by President Harold Shapiro, the council advocates for upgrades to university facilities, programs, and policies that affect people who have disabilities. It also presents activities to educate the university and local community about disability issues. The council is supported by several university offices and the Board of Regents.

The Council for Disability Concerns promotes disability awareness through wheelchair basketball and other activities. Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography.

“The council provides a voice for some constituents, a sounding board. It’s also a place executive officers and regents can go to get answers about disability-related questions, or to get feedback before starting a project,” says Jack Bernard, council chair, associate general counsel, and adjunct professor law, education, information and public policy.

Anyone may join the council. It currently counts 200 members from a wide list of schools and departments: Key Management Service, Plant Operations, the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Office of Admissions, Office of Institutional Equity, Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), School of Nursing, Institute for Social Research, University Human Resources, the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, and others. The council also includes members from the Ann Arbor community, including representation from the Center for Independent Living.

“Having a disability can be isolating. One purpose of the council is to create a gathering place where people from a diverse constituency have a forum for colloquy. Folks in the deaf community can engage with those who have vision or mobility impairments, to pursue common goals,” Bernard says.

Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, council coordinator and associate librarian, University Library, is also chair of the James T. Neubacher Award Committee. The award honors a member of the university community for his/her advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities. It is presented, along with Certificates of Appreciation, in October during Investing in Ability Week — the council’s annual showcase for programs and activities to increase awareness and understanding of people with disabilities and disability-related issues.

The 30th anniversary year theme is Invisible Disabilities-Out of the Shadows. “There are more people now able to attend the university with emotional, physical, cognitive, psychiatric and learning differences,” Schnitzer says. These include epilepsy, learning disabilities including dyslexia, or physical disabilities not readily visible. “People are often embarrassed to reveal these disabilities, so it is reassuring to find out they’re not the only ones to have them,” Schnitzer says. She adds that the council is seeking to publicize the existence of this growing population in order to reduce stigma and improve access.

Bernard says nearly 2,000 students with disabilities are registered with SSD, adding that, “the number of graduate students who have disabilities, particularly, is on the rise.”

The council also seeks to expand to the greater U-M community. “The new plan is to reach out even further, to the Flint and Dearborn campuses. We could share ideas, provide support, and help educate,” Schnitzer says.

Among recent changes, the council has developed syllabus language faculty use to describe how students can seek a needed accommodation and promoted high tech accommodations, which are deployed across campus. The James Edward Knox Center is an adaptive technology computing site supported by the council and U-M Library and funded by Information and Technology Services.

The council meets at noon the first Wednesday of each month at the Student Activities Building’s Huetwell Room.

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