On Wednesday, April 20, University students and staff could be found on the second floor of Frist Campus Center enjoying cupcakes and sushi as the AccessAbility Center celebrated its five-year anniversary of operation.
Attendees also had the opportunity to make their own buttons and receive t-shirts courtesy of the Center. Following this, both students and staff took the stage to make speeches. They acknowledged the important work the Center has done over the years to create a space where students with disabilities and allies can come together to support one another.
Liz Erickson, the Director for Disability Services, opened the talk by discussing the Center’s purpose and how it has served as an educational space.
“The space was designed for universal access to people with different abilities. You’ll be comfortable in the space, and we wanted to complement that with programming that would educate our community about possibilities,” she said.
Erickson went on to detail unique features of the Center that were intentionally designed with inclusivity and comfortability in mind.
“When we planned the Center, we designed it with universal access. We chose the color blue because it’s a common color for someone who has different psychological disabilities; you’ll see a large piece of artwork in the Center that we had custom made for us,“ she said.
“We’ve created different lighting options in the center. If you have seasonal affective disorder, you can turn that light on and it helps to give you the light that you need. We have a sign language alphabet to represent students who are [hard-of-]hearing or deaf,” she continued.
In addition to Erickson, two fellows for the AccessAbility Center discussed their experiences and memories working with the University organization. Naomi Hess ’22 discussed the appeal of the Center’s presence not only when she was searching for colleges but also throughout her time at Princeton.
Hess is an Associate News Editor Emerita and Contributing Copy Editor for The Daily Princetonian.
“[At] the beginning of my college search, the fact that we have this whole space in the Center for students who have disabilities [or] are interested in supporting other disabled people really meant a lot. Since then, I’ve been so fortunate to be able to contribute to the efforts of the AccessAbility Center,” she said. “In my past four years here, I’ve seen a growth in the amount of representation we’ve had on campus, largely because of all the efforts of all of us, helping [these] concepts [to be] accurately represented in our campus community.”
In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Hess explained further about her work as an AccessAbility Center fellow.
“I’ve really enjoyed being an AccessAbility Center fellow for the past three years. It’s been so fun and meaningful to work with the other fellows to plan programming and advocate for improved disability representation on campus,” she wrote.
Hess was instrumental in planning an event where Tony Award-winning actress Ali Stroker came to speak at Princeton — calling her work on this event “the highlight of the job.”
“Ali shared such profound insights and demonstrated how she overcame societal obstacles to find her own success,” Hess wrote. “The AccessAbility Center is so important because it’s a space run for and by disabled students. I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to work for the Center and do my part to increase accessibility and inclusion on campus.”
Harper Chambers ’24 is the newest fellow for the AccessAbility Center. Chambers, originally from Arkansas, described how disability is seen there and compared it to the values which define the AccessAbility Center.
“I’m from Arkansas, and in Arkansas, disability and accessibility isn’t treated the way it is here. I worked at a summer camp for children with their children with disabilities and chronic illnesses,“ he said. “I spent a few hours with [one of the campers] at Arkansas Children's Hospital and I saw the way that our medical system treats people with disabilities as a set of things that is happening to your body.”
Chambers described that the values which define how disability and accessibility are seen at Princeton are vastly different.
“I come here, and I see the way that we talked about disability and accessibility and we view it as a person, who they are. It’s not this ramp for someone who has a disability. It’s a ramp so that everybody can get into [our buildings],” he said.
Chambers also explained that one pillar of the AccessAbility Center is to spread awareness of the challenges facing students with disabilities.
“I think everybody here who came to support that mission of ours will leave … and notice the buildings on campus that some people can’t get into, and the systems on campus that systematically discriminate against people with disabilities,” Chambers said.
Erickson added to this sentiment, explaining the importance of seeing people with disabilities and the negative consequences of assumptions about their abilities.
“People make assumptions when they see someone who has a disability, [or] when they see a person who has a hidden disability. And the messaging is that we don’t want you to make assumptions. Get to know someone; ask them,” she said.
Hess also discussed the Center’s future work following her graduation in May.
“I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Center. At just five years old, it’s still rather new, and there are lots of ways to expand. I hope the Center continues to offer engaging programs celebrating disability and difference on campus,“ she said.
“I would love for the Center to bring more speakers to campus and highlight the disabled students and staff who are already here. I’m so happy that the five year celebration was a success and I hope this is just one example of the many great events the Center will host in the future,” she continued.
The AccessAbility Center can be found on the second floor of Frist Campus Center. More information about the Center and Princeton’s work can be found here.
Bailey Glenetske is an Assistant News Editor who often covers student life, University COVID-19 policies and STEM news. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @bailey.glenetske.