A new student organization called Cornell Graduate Disability Plus is hoping to advocate for graduate students with disabilities and raise awareness of resources available for students with disabilities on campus.
Alice Wolff grad founded Cornell Graduate Disability Plus last spring to advocate for the needs of graduate students with disabilities at the University. Wolff said she has wanted to create this group since her first year at Cornell, inspired by the schools where she completed her undergraduate and masters education, which she says had robust disability student groups. Now, Cornell Graduate Disability Plus is in its early stages, with its first meeting held this fall.
“Our goals are to provide a place for disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent graduate students to connect with each other and build a sense of community,” Wolff said. “We also hope to be a hub for advocacy and education for issues related to disability on Cornell’s campus.”
According to Wolf, the group established three main initiatives in a recent meeting on Dec. 1. They hope to persuade the University to include yellow paint on the edges of stairs in an effort to aid students with visual impairments, raise awareness about changes to Cornell Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services and create training workshops for graduate school instructors to better inform them about disability accommodations.
Arianna Bartlett grad has been working to spread awareness about the group through graduate announcements sent out by Student Disability Services and the Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement.
“We also wish to increase transparency about accommodations to ensure equal access to all students,” Bartlett added. “We also hope to combat biases and prejudice against people with disabilities and chronic illnesses by providing education and workshops to faculty, staff and other students.”
Thari Zweets grad said she feels that there is a lack of support for graduate students with disabilities.
“Many organizations are more geared toward undergraduate students, and we felt we needed a space for graduate and professional students to connect on this topic and to have a good sense of our needs while having a disability and/or being neurodiverse,” Zweets said.
Emi Donald grad learned about the advocacy group from an email from SDS in spring 2021 and attended the first meeting this fall.
“I followed up with an expression of interest and came along to the first meeting in early fall,” Donald said. “I was very excited to learn that other grad students wanted to organize around disability advocacy.”
Donald described their positive experience with the group as a student that is visually impaired.
“It’s giving us a chance to identify some of the long-existing problems and systemic biases within University practices that can create hostile working environments for graduate students with disabilities, neurodiversities and chronic illness,” Donald said.
Kate Flaherty grad also first heard about the group from an SDS email. She had been considering forming a similar group herself but then heard about Wolff’s group. According to Flaherty, Cornell Graduate Disability Plus has given her access to important information she was previously unaware of, such as disability parking permit discounts.
Swathi Suvarna grad also attended the group’s first meeting in the fall and said she has found community in sharing experiences with other graduate students.
“It helps to feel less lonely and to know that there’s help to feel better … While I do feel seen and heard here at Cornell, I do think there’s a lot more potential to do better for all of us so that we’re not leaving anyone behind or at a disadvantage,” Suvarna said.