Close Scholarship Fund Winning Essay for Winter 2011/12

Our Question: Why does being inclusive of students with disabilities on campus matter?

Rachel Gomes
University of Alabama


Colleges and universities should focus resources and invest in programs of inclusivity to help ensure their campuses accurately reflect a cross section of the population, as well as, adequately prepare graduates, including those with disabilities, to contribute and lead the world they are about to enter.

Most Americans would likely be surprised by the sheer number of disabled individuals who already do, and will continue to touch our everyday lives. According to the 2002 Americans with Disabilities Report, 18% of the US population has some level of disability, with two-thirds of those considered to have a severe disability. Certainly, the institutions which help shape our future leaders must not ignore the contributions those with disabilities can make, nor filter their impact from those without disabilities who attend our colleges and universities. As our population ages, the impact of disability on everyone's lives will become even greater. According to the same institution, 72% of people 80 years and older live with a disability. Conversely, while old age may seem far-off to those in college, they should soberly consider the almost 50,000 young 18-30 year-old veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have been wounded in action during the past 10 years.

Failure of colleges and universities to act decisively, is tantamount to ignoring the need, and perhaps more pointedly, ignoring the opportunity to reap rewards that are possible by investing in students with disabilities. While easy to miss, obstacles faced by the disabled are significantly greater than those without, so the first step is to decisively and pro-actively seek-out and break-down those barriers they face. Only then can the full opportunity be realized. From Helen Keller to Stephen Hawking, history abounds with examples of great leaders and intellectuals with disabilities, but how many more never had the opportunity, or perhaps more importantly, may never get the future opportunity to develop and contribute to our society, unless colleges and universities pro-actively invest focused concern and effort to include them in the opportunities afforded to others who are not disabled.

Beyond simply (and easily) saying what someone else should do, individually I'm also committed to continue reaching-out and including those who are disabled. As with any need that commands action, attention and willingness to become involved must be ingrained in to our everyday lives. As a long-term life guard and staff member at the local YMCA, I'm constantly presented with opportunities to reach-out to those who simply need a confidence boost, or provide a small helping hand that allows someone to accomplish what they want. In return, I'm often blessed with a lesson or morale boost from someone considered to be "disabled". We all have limitations of some kind, and by simply recognizing we all belong to the same family of God, we can receive as much or more than we give, simply by being inclusive.