UNO’s Inclusive Learning Series raising disability awareness

Photo courtesy of Katherine Keiser
Ashley Morton

One in 4 adults in the United States live with a disability, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is looking to do its part in raising awareness of disabilities as an aspect of diversity.

The Accessibility Services Center (ASC) at UNO works with students with disabilities and advises the campus on related matters. They were awarded the Inclusive Excellence Grant last year which enabled the center to create the Inclusive Learning Series being offered now at UNO.

Katherine Keiser, a Mental Health Therapist at the UNO Counseling and Psychological Services, shared information about why this new series is important and what it means to the university:

“Those who should come to these events are those with a disability, those who know or might ever know someone with a disability, those who have or might ever have a coworker with a disability…in other words everyone can benefit from these workshops and events,” Keiser said.

The series doesn’t just cover physical disabilities. All disabilities, visible and invisible, are topics of conversation. Beginning last fall, the series debuted with a session that explained who and what the ASC is, accommodations they provide, and how to communicate with faculty. Most of the fall sessions focused on providing and sharing resources for those with disabilities and their families/friends as well as providing effective teaching methods for faculty.

Kaity Jankovich, a senior at UNO, can attest first hand to the benefits of having an organization like the ASC at her disposal:

“For me, the ASC has been a helpful resource in navigating college while living with multiple chronic illnesses,” Jankovich said. “Watching your health decline can be scary, especially when you want nothing more than to excel in school and earn your degree. The ASC, and the new director specifically, has helped me by leveling the playing field wherever possible since my abilities have changed.”

Starting this Spring, workshops are focusing on ‘ways to support students who identify as having a disability, disability as an aspect of diversity, and intersectionality among identity groups,’ according to the university’s website. Keiser shared that in recent years, the ASC has surveyed registered students, around 1000, and found that the feedback regarding resources and inclusion for those with disabilities has been left wanting.

Jankovich shares similar views with those other 1000 students:

“I feel like UNO for the most part does a good job of creating an inclusive environment. For the majority of my time here, I’ve have had some of the most supportive professors. It’s unfortunate when a professor does lack that empathy or understanding, but it happens. Thankfully something like the ASC exists to advocate in situations where it’s needed.”

Keiser understands this and notes the program aims to increase awareness of how to foster an inclusive environment, remove the stigma surrounding disability and improve those registered with the ASC’s overall experience at UNO by increasing staff’s knowledge.

To reach that goal, the ASC has partnered with the Criss Library to help promote the Criss Library Human Library, offered at the end of the Inclusive Learning Series. This particular event looks to provide visitors of the event with ‘human books’: individuals with diverse life experiences, in which they can talk, share, and learn from their experiences.

In cross-promoting this particular event, the ASC hopes to encourage those living with disabilities to apply to be a ‘human book.’ This is the fifth year the Human Library has been an exhibition at the university.

While a couple of events have already passed, there are still plenty of opportunities on the calendar for those interested. On Mar. 5, a student panel, consisting of four members with disabilities, will share their challenges and successes of living and learning with a disability. On Mar. 23, a faculty panel, consisting of four faculty members, will share ideas and experiences of working with students with disabilities. Mar. 25-29 will see a week-long exhibit of writings, drawings, and expressions by anyone wanting to share their experiences living and learning with a disability or as a support system of someone with a disability. And finally, Apr. 10-11 will bring the Human Library at the Criss Library. Check out the university’s websiteon the Inclusive Learning Series for times, locations, and more information.