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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

​​Disability rights group aims to educate about inclusion, accessibility

Courtney Brown
Joe Hanford, marketing officer Carla Cummings, and membership and outreach officer Mia Dennett listen to virtual attendees at the first Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentorship meeting on Oct. 25.

Zaylee Bell is no stranger to disability rights advocacy. After Bell had a “mental breakdown” about the lack of accessibility and inclusion of disabled students, she drew on her past high school advocacy experiences when starting a disability rights group on campus. 

Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring (DREAM) brings a chapter of the national organization to Wichita State, with their goal being to educate those on campus on how to include disabled students. 

Bell, the president of DREAM, said she struggled with the lack of accessibility on campus. As a wheelchair user, she faced difficulties in her photojournalism class, unable to walk a lot or get into the “weird positions” needed for a sports photography assignment.

During the winter, the campus ramps were icy, making her slip and struggle to get into class. In another lecture hall, she took notes on her lap all semester because she was given a spot in the front of the classroom, right next to the professor. 

“That feels like it’s calling somebody out really, for just something they can’t control. And it was very concerning,” Bell said. “And there’s so much of it happening at the beginning of second semester last year that I just couldn’t handle it anymore.”

After Bell spoke with Autumn Fitten, her former caseworker in the Office of Disability Services, they started DREAM and recruited four more disabled students during the spring and summer, rounding out their executive officers. 

Mia Dennett, DREAM’s membership and outreach officer and treasurer, said she had noticed the lack of community for disabled students on campus. After they reached out about starting a club, she learned of DREAM and joined. 

Dennett said that the group has helped them feel less out of place.

“It can get very lonely to feel like the odd one out,” Dennett said. “So being around other disabled people is very nice because you understand each other, and you don’t have to worry about feeling awkward about needing accommodations or anything like that.”

As the membership and outreach officer, Dennett makes educational content for DREAM’s Instagram about various disabilities and “anything that helps build community.” One post spotlighted Judy Heumann, a disability rights activist who died in March.

People with disabilities make up the largest minority group at 16% of the global population, according to the World Health Organization. Bell and Dennett both noted that all five executive officers have different disabilities, and when it comes to considering different viewpoints, Dennett said the officers also do their own research.

“We educate ourselves before we educate others,” Dennett said.

While DREAM aims to mainly reach disabled students via Instagram, Bell said DREAM also is planning tabling, trainings for professors and staff and hosting guest speakers.

Bell said the organization also wants to educate on how to approach disabled people and have more compassion and understanding toward the community.

 “Personally, I’ve had people come up and just ask like, ‘Can I push you?’ and I’m like, ‘Why? I’m not struggling’ … and there’s no reason for you to ask an able-bodied person if they need help,” Bell said.

The young organization has met with the theater department to speak about making the program more accessible after several teachers approached Dennett, a theater major who uses mobility aids, about this.

“We’re working on making the building itself more accessible,” Dennett said. “But we’re also talking about having interpreters at shows and having sensory-friendly performances and making sure that the staff and faculty know how to interact with people with disabilities.”

As the president, Bell said she sometimes gets imposter syndrome, but she has had fun planning with the other executive officers and finding what works for everyone.

 “I’m just like, ‘Is this something you want to do?’ And I try to learn everybody’s like strengths and abilities and give them something they enjoy, and I’ll take what’s left,” she said.

While previously part of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Bell said she also didn’t feel welcomed there, but like “an afterthought.” Now, Bell said it is “easier to relate” with the other disabled officers she works with.  

“As much as people can try to understand what you’re going through, they don’t know it unless they’ve actually lived it,” Bell said. “And we’ve all lived some type of ableism in our life and controversy, and we’ll just push through it.” 

According to Dennett, DREAM also plans to offer virtual meetings alongside their in-person meetings. They also will ensure space for mobility aids, use clear language for autistic people and those with other interaction difficulties, and are working to include interpreters.

“There’s been some struggles like – we’re trying to find the best way to communicate and the best way to have meetings and making them as accessible as possible,” Bell said. “But even through those, I’m just like, ‘This is so amazing.’ I’m so proud of our work.”

For more information on DREAM and future meetings, visit their Instagram @wsu_dream.

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About the Contributor
Courtney Brown
Courtney Brown, News Editor
Courtney Brown is one of the news editors for The Sunflower. She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. Brown uses she/her pronouns.

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    DelaneyNov 2, 2023 at 1:06 pm

    Super glad to see this on campus! Thanks for all y’all do at DREAM.