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Access-ABLE club advocates for students with disabilities

| Friday, February 8, 2019

For students with disabilities, tasks like getting to exams on time or to the dining hall on a snowy day can prove to be very difficult. While Notre Dame’s Sara Bea Disability Services aim to “reduce or eliminate the barriers that may be caused by the interaction of a disability and a traditional academic environment,” according to its mission statement, there is still a long way to go to improve disability services on campus.

This is why four students at Notre Dame started the now-probationary club, Access-ABLE. The students’ main goal is advocacy and awareness for students with disabilities.

President Monica Mesecar, vice president Myriam SagastaPereira, treasurer Michelle Moufawad and secretary Ellie McCarthy — all sophomores — are currently in the final phase of becoming an SAO-official club. Scott Howland, program coordinator of the Sara Bea Center for Students with Disabilities, serves as the faculty advisor.

For now, the club plans to have regular meetings, where students can speak openly about accessibility, specifically the challenges a student with disabilities faces on a daily basis.

McCarthy explained a story about her roommate and club president Mesecar, who has cerebral palsy. Mesecar, who lives in Ryan Hall, one of the only disability-friendly dorms on campus takes her exams in the disability center. After leaving Ryan around 6:30 a.m. last February, the wheels of her motorized wheelchair got stuck in the unplowed snow outside of the Morris Inn. McCarthy had to push her out and walk her the rest of the way to the disability center.

McCarthy said this story opened her eyes to concerns about accessibility.

“If you’re making Monica come all the way to the disability center, and you’re not sending someone to collect her, how can you ensure her safety?” McCarthy said. “No one else is up at that time in the morning. If I hadn’t woken up to help her, that could have gone a lot worse. It is not only impacting her day-to-day life, but it’s really impacting her education, too.”

The Access-ABLE club provides a place for students with disabilities to share stories like these. The group hopes to run a speaker series, bringing differently abled people from around campus to explain their experiences and discuss how other students can help make their days easier.

“People have [generally] been inviting and helpful to students with disabilities,” McCarthy said.

Still, there is still a lot that needs to be done, she said, specifically in terms of the buildings on campus.

Twelve Notre Dame dorms are non-accessible on campus Badin Hall and Walsh Hall were recently renovated and are now accessible. Even buildings that are accessible are “not always convenient,” Moufawad said, bringing up Riley Hall of Art as an example. There is a ramp that leads into the wood shop in Riley, but students can’t use the ramp when class is in session.

“We want to work with the student government and administration [on building renovations],” Moufawad said. “It’s tricky to change all of these buildings and make everything handicap-accessible, so that is more of a long-term goal.”

Access-ABLE is already working with student government. One of the items on junior Elizabeth Boyle and sophomore Patrick McGuire’s platform while running their successful campaign to be student body president and vice president was to work with Access-ABLE and expand the club.

As a new club, Access-ABLE is planning many strides forward in the upcoming semester. The club just opened up a Facebook page and Instagram account, “Access-ABLE of Notre Dame” and “@ndaccess_able,” respectively.

McCarthy encourages students to “keep their eyes and ears open. Try to be helpful, and all in all, if they’re interested, join the club.”

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