Ability Allies aims to bring awareness about disabilities

By Jacqueline Lopez-Crisp

The Ability Ally program at Cal Poly Pomona is made up of a network of faculty, staff and students that promotes disability awareness and supports people with disabilities.

Ability Ally was created to answer questions and provide knowledge about people with disabilities.

“We focus on the ability of people and the ability to see and hear about the life experiences of students with a variety of disabilities,” said Catherine Schmitt-Whitaker, executive director of Student Health and Counseling Services and president of Access and disABILITY Alliance. “I think it is impactful for individuals to hear about how others experience the world, and what their stories are.”

Schmitt-Whitaker says that the program helps participants understand those experiences in a safe environment.

“The individuals involved have reduced barriers in terms of allowing individuals that may have had some thoughts or beliefs to ask questions in an environment that they felt comfortable,” said Schmitt-Whitaker. “We want to be able to break down some stereotypes or myths they’ve had.”

The Ability Ally program conducts training sessions for any faculty or student interested, but registration is required. When they complete the training, participants are given placards to display in their rooms or offices.

Since the start of the program in January 2013, the campus community has shown a large amount of interest.

“Since its inception, we’ve trained 500 allies,” said Dawn Finley, co-founder of Ability Ally and job location and development coordinator. “Students, staff and faculty have gone through the training.”

Finley believes that the program is increasing awareness.

“Our students, staff and faculty that have disabilities aren’t always recognized, so it’s easier perhaps to dismiss needs,” said Finley. “Our goal of all of this is to create an inclusive environment. We’ve created a more inclusive environment.”

Ability Ally training has student facilitators that conduct some of the training.

“We’re engaging in student development, so we’re developing leaders and so fourth though the training,” said Finley.

As of now, the training is offered twice a quarter. However, with popularity in the program growing, the Ability Allies are looking to make more training sessions available.

One of the newly trained allies is Tracy Dean, a training and business continuity analyst in Human Resources and Risk Management.

“[The program] really opened my eyes to being more sensitive to people with disabilities, not only visual disabilities but hidden disabilities,” said Dean. “It helped me realize that although I know that people are going through different things with their lives, they may have different struggles that I am unaware of because I can’t visually see it.”

Dean highly recommends participating.

“I would encourage all students, staff and faculty to take the program,” said Dean. “Because I work in risk management, I’m already more aware of [Americans with Disabilities Act] requirements. But I think that if other people who weren’t necessarily aware of it, they would definitely get more out of it.”

According to Dean, the most important thing she learned is just to be more aware of people who have hidden disabilities.

“I would encourage as many Cal Poly Pomona community members to take the program and really embrace what the program has to offer,” said Dean.

Alfredo Cortez Valle, a fourth-year business administration student who has completed the training, says that the training helps participants understand invisible disabilities.

“There’s no way of you pointing out that this person has this, and that’s what this training is all about,” said Cortez Valle. “It’s about bringing that culture out of the shadows and bringing light to it and educating people.”

Cortez Valle is also one of the student facilitators involved in the program.

“The training is meant to be for everyone because it’s people understanding people,” said Cortez Valle. “We’re not talking about people with disabilities. We’re talking about people and disabilities. We’re just as capable and useful, and we’re pretty much just as existent as any other individual.”

One main point the training is trying to show participants is that the disability does not make the person.

“People can be successful with or without disabilities,” said Cortez Valle.

On Nov. 11, the Ability Ally program received the Innovative Program Award at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators conference.

“It’s exciting and rewarding that the Ability Ally program and the individuals that were involved in the development of the program have been recognized for their contributions for creating an innovated program,” said Schmitt-Whitaker. “That’s making a difference and enriching the diversity of our communities.”

Ability Allies

Courtesy Ability Allies

Ability Allies

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