Beyond Disabilities Week • From April 14 to 18, WPI will host its first Beyond Disabilities Week to bring attention to the ways people live with, think about, and work with abilities of different kinds. The week includes discussions, panels, giveaways, a movie, and a keynote speech by guest speaker Jane Thierfeld-Brown, an expert in the field of autism and higher education. The week caps off with the unveiling of WPI’s new Accessible Icon.
April 14, 2014


“The focus of the week is to look beyond disabilities and limitations and to celebrate the strengths and abilities people bring to our campus community,” says Aaron Ferguson, director of the Office of Accessibility Services.

Now in its third year as a stand-alone department at WPI, the Office of Accessibility Services is sponsoring the week with the newly formed disability advocacy student group, ACCESS (Awareness, Community, Collaboration, Empowerment, Support, and Success).

“Our group of dedicated individuals are passionate about broadening the view of disabilities on our campus,” says junior Chiana Montesi, ACCESS member and faculty outreach for the group. “We want to make sure  our community is educated and students feel they can make a difference no matter what their background is.”

Monday, April 14:

“We hope to inspire a shift away from the stigma of disability to empower the WPI community

Students are invited to stop by the table in the Rubin Campus Center to find out more information, grab a T-shirt and a button, and give their input (on camera or with a photo if they want) to describe the old and new icons of the Accessible Icon Project. “This is really the start of the conversation” for the week, says Ferguson, and the events will highlight the icon to explain the symbolism of it and how the events speak to the message of shifting from an impairment to empowerment paradigm in our language, imagery, and actions.

Tuesday, April 15:

ACCESS will hold a Frisbee golf fundraiser from 11am to 1pm on the Quad; at noon in Higgins House, the faculty panel “Academic Accessibility at WPI” will explain how faculty members encourage universal accessibility including day-to-day tips from their experience and perspectives. “Creating an accessible campus is something we all play a part in,” says Ferguson, “and I am excited to highlight some great examples of WPI community members who are engaged in good practices for accessibility.”

Wednesday, April 16:

An open house at the Office of Accessibility Services between 10am and 3pm invites everyone to view the new office space in Daniels Hall, watch demonstrations of assistive technologies for learning and studying, and pick up information about getting involved through the peer-mentoring training program or by becoming an EDGE (Empowerment through Directed Goals for Education) mentor.

From noon to 1pm, students will discuss their own experiences on campus with the student panel, “Views from Our Shoes” in Atwater Kent 233, bringing the student point of view about their own accomplishments, their disabilities, and the importance of self-advocacy. “Hearing from peers about their experiences is a powerful way to get the conversation going on campus around perceptions related to disability,” says Laura Rosen, assistant director of the Office of Accessibility Services.

Thursday, April 17:

A gathering called “Different, but Not Less” will present the 2010 movie Temple Salisbury Labs 115, 7–9:30. Grandin  helped change research in her own field (animal science) by using her autism-specific trait of thinking in pictures.

Friday, April 18:

The week concludes with the unveiling of WPI’s new Accessibility Icon at 11am at the Bartlett Center handicap parking spaces. (All campus handicap parking spots are expected to have the new icons by then.) The first 30 attendees will score a free T-shirt. At 2pm in Salisbury Labs 402, Jane Thierfeld-Brown, co-director of College Autism Spectrum, will speak to “further awareness and understanding of students on the autism spectrum and how students, faculty, and staff can work together to best support their peers, students, and colleagues on the spectrum.”

During Beyond Disabilities Week, students can hear about all the ways WPI is working toward a Universal Design and why it’s so important for everyone. “Many people think of a disability diagnosis as a hindrance,” says Montesi. “But disability often depends on the context and more often than not our students have more relevant strengths than challenges.”

“Our hope is that Beyond Disabilities Week will spark a larger conversation to make the concepts and language of accessibility, well, more accessible,” says Ferguson. “We hope to inspire a shift away from the stigma of disability to empower the WPI community to think and act more accessibly.”

For further information, check out the Facebook pages of Beyond Disabilities Week and Accessible Icon Project.