In early September, with Disability Awareness & Inclusion month just a few short weeks away, staff from Muskingum University’s Disability Education office (DEO), PLUS Program, and Diversity, Access & Inclusion (DAI) office began brainstorming the most appropriate ways to celebrate the important October event on campus. As the conversation evolved, the team – led by Carissa Taylor, coordinator for DEO, and Katlyn Goodin, DEO and World Languages Assistant – outlined more than 10 events to engage and educate the campus community.
With help and guidance from Danyelle Gregory, the director of DAI, and individuals in the PLUS program, events were strategically held in locations on campus to attract the most visitors while complying with social-distancing safety guidelines established by the University. According to Carissa Taylor, the mix of in-person and virtual events was driven by one single mission – to raise awareness of what it means to live and thrive, with a disability.
“An individual with a disability or a disorder can change the world because of what makes them different, and our October events were developed to further awareness in a fun, engaging way, while highlighting the work of PLUS, DEO, and DAI,” Taylor said.
Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month events were widely attended by both employees and students, with events like “See the Able, Not the Label” attracting attention early in the month. The three-day, exhibition-style showcase featured posters and information regarding incredibly successful people – from presidents to celebrities – with documented disabilities. Muskingum faculty widely attended and provided positive feedback about the event, with some encouraging students to participate in this, and other October events, for extra credit.
Taylor says students especially enjoyed the bonfire on the Chess Center Patio, and “Inclusion is Sweet,” an event that took place on the quad that involved handing out candy to both students and visitors with facts about PLUS, DEO, and DAI. Toward the end of the month “Be an Ally” was another popular event that included several carnival games and prize giveaways on the quad, all designed to highlight individuals with and without disabilities working in unison to produce several aspects of the event.
“Support from our campus community throughout the month – from leadership to faculty, to students, and everyone in between, was incredibly inspiring,” Taylor said. “President Hasseler and Provost Evangelista attended several events, including our webinars and student study break, and the incentives from faculty for students certainly increased attendance throughout the month. I’ve come to expect nothing less than this level of encouragement for our programs at this University.”
“The PLUS and DEO programs exemplify Muskingum’s commitment to inclusive excellence as they not only empower our students with learning differences but also engage the entire campus community in embracing inclusive teaching and learning strategies. These events gave a unique opportunity for students in the PLUS and DEO programs to share their stories and expertise with the campus in very powerful ways,” said Muskingum University President Sue Hasseler. “I continue to be appreciative of the many ways in which our Diversity, Access and Inclusion Office is building awareness of our campus-wide commitment to inclusion and am also delighted to have such a strong Disability Resources Services staff.”
While this was the inaugural month-long celebration of Disability Awareness & Inclusion month at Muskingum, Taylor says it certainly won’t be the last. “This will be on the calendar every year moving forward. It’s a keeper!”
The PLUS program and DEO operate under the expert leadership of Dr. Leann DiAndreth-Elkins, executive director of Disability Resource Services and associate professor of Education. Dr. Elkins arrived on campus in late January of 2020, bringing a wealth of knowledge in disability services spanning 21 years. Previously, Dr. Elkins was an associate professor and M.A.Ed. program director in the College of Education and Human Performance at West Liberty University. She has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in special education both online and in-person for four different universities. Her areas of research include transition issues and postsecondary services for students with disabilities, teaching strategies for students with disabilities in inclusion settings, and assessment and intervention strategies for struggling learners. Dr. Elkins received her Ed.D. and M.Ed. in Special Education from Texas Tech University, and her M.A. in Student Affairs in Higher Education and B.S. in Elementary Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.