Accessible Futures DePaul: The future is accessible

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Eric Henry

DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.

Accessible Futures DePaul (AFD) is the first on-campus student organization for disabled students.

Founded and led by junior Gwenyth True, with support from treasurer David Hupp and faculty advisor Kelly Tzoumis, AFD is building a community space on campus to advance disability justice for students.

“This is our first academic quarter of organizing together and I’m thrilled to already see students rallying around these issues,” True said.

This academic year, they plan on holding meet and greet events, inviting guest speakers and collaborating with other student organizations, academic departments and more.

The inspiration to create this organization came from True’s conversations with other students about disability issues on campus. These interactions led her to recognize the need for an organization that encouraged disabled students to join together in a community at DePaul.

“All students, regardless of personal disability status, that care about disability issues on campus and beyond [are] welcome to join our community,” True said.

According to Tzoumis, the university’s Center for Students with Disabilities assisted 1,200 students last year. However, she says the number continues to fluctuate and is inaccurate.

Before this year, DePaul didn’t have an organization for disabled students and faculty.

“Other cultural groups have these spaces on DePaul’s campus to form communities, meet one another and talk about the specific experiences of their identities,” True said. “A physical space would support the success of disabled students and faculty in a way that other resources are currently not achieving.”

The Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) services are available to students with diverse physical, learning, medical, mental health and sensory disabilities.

One of the concerns that AFD addresses is the lack of accessibility and ineffective communication management in the CSD intake process.

“Those of us that receive accommodations understand how vital they can be to our success and want every disabled student to have that opportunity, regardless of socioeconomic status, energy-limiting chronic illnesses, geographic location or other factors that would make it extremely difficult to access the documentation necessary to receive CSD accommodations,” True said.

The main problem the CSD is facing is there’s “not enough funding,” Hupp said. This limits the number of resources and accomodations available to students.

“[The CSD] knows they don’t have all of the resources they need to provide accommodations for everyone,” said Hupp, the Student Government Association senator for disabled students and the treasurer of AFD. “At the end of the day, the CSD’s job is to ration those resources.”

Hupp added that there’s a lot of room for improvement in regards to accessibility, accommodations and resources at DePaul.

“Within the bureaucracy of DePaul, disabled students are often an afterthought,” Hupp said. “I’m hopeful that there are a lot of people in CSD who want to make disabled people’s lives easier.”

True said that the top priority of AFD is to serve the wants and needs of the community while working towards making a difference.

“We plan to do this by talking openly about the experiences of disabled students, by working with other justice-oriented student organizations to apply an intersectional lens to the issues we care about and by forming an open, inclusive community that is welcoming of all,” True said.

Tzoumis’ goal as the faculty advisor is to support the students and the organization itself.

The formation of this student-led organization could potentially lead to a multitude of positive changes within the DePaul community, as well as within the CSD.

“I’ve seen DePaul listen to students,” Tzoumis said. “Students can have an impact on policies at DePaul.”