Mary Ann Nelson shows a video to her class every year that enlightens students’ perspective on disabilities.
“30 Days” features NFL star Ray Crockett, who spent 30 days in a wheelchair to experience how physically disabled Americans live.
Nelson, a senior lecturer at the University of Florida College of Education, said everyone needs to get comfortable with the idea of disability and knowing what to say, because at some point every person will encounter a client, patient, friend or family member who has one.
The need for awareness is one reason UF is preparing to introduce a new graduate certificate in disabilities in society for Spring 2016.
The new program aims to provide opportunities for students in all disciplines to enhance their understanding of the implications of disabilities for professional practice, according to the UF College of Education website.
Penny Cox, a UF graduate coordinator of special education, said with the success of the disabilities in society minor that was introduced to undergraduates three years ago, they want to present a graduate opportunity that could reach people in all areas of
“This program is a mixture of both new and existing information,” Cox said. “We’ve spent a lot of time preaching to the choir about the issue of disability awareness, but now we have to ensure the misconceptions and lack of information are addressed through the grad certificate.”
The fully online certificate is unlike many disability studies programs in the nation, Cox said, because the study comes as second interest to a student’s major. It is a complementary educational tool.
Syracuse University established the first disability studies program for students in 1994 in an effort to center on disability rights and perspectives, said Mary Ann Barker, the office coordinator for the cultural foundations of education at Syracuse.
“The certificate program at Syracuse utilizes social justice as the theme for disabilities, whether that be in the classroom, workplace or any other location,” Barker said. “We focus on human policy.”
Noah Ellis, who is a teaching assistant for Nelson’s exceptional people class at UF, said there is a need for individuals to fight for social justice for people who have disabilities.
“Individuals with disabilities commonly face a slew of issues, from discrimination to social alienation,” Ellis said. “Having a graduate certificate in disabilities would equip individuals to tackle these issues and hopefully dispel discrimination so it doesn’t perpetuate far into the future.”
Historically, people with disabilities have been institutionalized, but the U.S. has progressed away from that, Nelson said. UF is also working to help people better understand disabilities.
Preeya Mody, the cabinet director for disability affairs in UF’s Student Government, said students with disabilities are part of one of the largest, most-underrepresented minority groups on campus. She said initiatives that spread awareness, such as this graduate certificate, are needed.
“Students with disabilities tend to feel like they don’t have a voice, so it’s important to make sure there are efforts to increase their representation,” Mody said. “It’s about both spreading awareness and providing service.”
Many students don’t realize disability is much more than something physical, Mody said, but the new program will help participants better understand the concept.
Cox said the graduate certificate involves four core classes and a final project. The final day to enroll for the upcoming Spring semester is Nov. 15.
“The whole idea of this program is to add knowledge to your experience,” Cox said. “Majors all over campus already have adopted the minor in disabilities in society, and a lot of new people of all concentrations have shown interest in our new certificate.”