First students with disabilities panel aims to increase awaresnes, accessibility

Flannery Moore, Culture Editor

The first students with disabilities panel was an insightful opportunity for the college community to reflect on how to better support every member of the community.

“Education and advocacy are the cornerstones of my approach to disability services,” states Hannah Davidson, the ARC’s Associate Director of Disability Services. Education and advocacy were the values that shaped the April 17th  panel for students with disabilities. 

The panel was organized in collaboration between psychology major Erin Golden ‘23, Davidson, the Academic Resource Center, Health Services, and the Dean of Students’ office. 

Student organizer Erin Golden was the first to raise the idea of a panel for students with disabilities on campus and described it as  “surreal” to watch her idea become reality. In reflecting on her own experiences as a student with disabilities as well as hearing about others’ experiences, Golden noticed similarities. She recognized the need to center the voices of students with disabilities and saw the panel as an “opportunity to increase awareness, acceptance, and accessibility.”

The panel was moderated by Wayne Currie, director of the Intercultural Center, and featured six students. The first question asked of panelists was: How does disability impact your daily life on campus?  

Anica Harris ‘24 shared that she has “days where it’s really hard to move and do stairs,” and that campus simply isn’t always physically accessible. Diego Benites ‘25 shared his experience navigating school as a student with visual impairments. He said, “I have to figure out how to make assignments accessible,” for every part of his academics. Another panelist said that she “constantly feels like I’m being pointed out for being slower than everyone else.” 

When asked, “Do you feel comfortable as a student with disabilities?” the panelists gave a range of thoughtful answers. A transfer student shared that while she found “open arms and understanding” for her support needs at other colleges, her experience at Saint Anselm has not been as positive. Caroline Codner ‘24 said that before her academic accommodations were in place with the ARC “my professors were awesome,” and asked her what support she needed.  

Ava Petrosino ‘26 discussed her experience of living in Joan of Arc Hall, a dorm with no elevator. The lack of an elevator makes JOA inaccessible, and while Petrosino lives on the first floor due to accommodations, she sometimes wants to just hang out with her friends in the basement even on days when she struggles to move. She said that while she has a great support system, “It feels like I shouldn’t have to be constantly navigating spaces that should be more accessible to me.”     

Panelists also described positive experiences on campus. Petrosino, a freshman, called the support she has received from the ARC “really refreshing.” She described a meeting with Jenne Powers, director of the ARC, and said that she was surprised when Powers sat down and asked, “How can I support you best?” and implemented accommodations to do this. Codner shared that while she was “a little nervous” about disclosing her disability to professors but has also been surprised by the support she has received.

Panelists emphasized the importance of educating faculty and other students about the realities of disability. As students, taking on the administrative work of constantly advocating for themselves to get adequate support is a huge responsibility on top of classes and extracurriculars. A panelist pointed out that students cannot adequately support each other unless they are getting the support they need first. 

Benites said, “The thing with disabilities is that people don’t really understand them.” This lack of understanding translates to a lack of accessibility on campus. Harris suggested incorporating education about disability into freshman orientation, both for students with disabilities and for their classmates.  

Golden stated, “Getting this panel up and off the ground and hearing how eager people are to learn has been really empowering.” She said that as a student with disabilities, “you try and make your needs smaller so it’s easier to accommodate you, so you have to pick and choose what battles are worth it, because it’s a very vulnerable experience to ask for what you need and we live in a world that doesn’t always accept that.”

She said that she is used to having to go to others when she needs to communicate her needs, but “for this panel people were coming to us to learn about our needs.” While the panel still called for disabled students to do the work of educating their community, Golden is hopeful that this shift represents a change in the work done on campus to make the Hilltop more accessible. Davidson said, “In the ARC, we have already started planning new events based on what students shared, and we hope this is just the beginning of this important work.”