The Undergraduate Student Government is planning to vote for the creation of a new student assembly — the Student Assembly for Accessibility.
The assembly, spearheaded by the USG Director of Accessibility Affairs Gwen Howard, will implement advocacy efforts to redefine the term “disability,” demonstrating how broad the term can be. The assembly will strive to celebrate disability culture so that people find empowerment in rejecting social norms around disability, Howard told Annenberg Media.
“Because disability can present in infinite ways, one of the core concepts that I wanted to promote from the get-go is an explicit inclusion of a wide definition of disability in all aspects – e-board representation, event programming and messaging,” Howard said.
The assembly is an opportunity to provide a community of support for students to share their lived experiences, erasing any stigma that is typically associated with disabilities.
“I believe USC has needed a group advocating for disabled students for a very long time, but due to the stigma surrounding disability, and even the word “disabled,” too many students don’t identify as disabled or are not properly educated on what the word “disability” really encompasses,” said Gabrielle Afflick, the co-director of the assembly. “Many people, including myself at one point, associate the word with physical markers, like a wheelchair or crutches, but neglect to include ailments like mental illness, neurodivergence, learning variability, chronic illness, etc.”
Javin D’Souza, the co-director of the assembly, stressed the idea of de-stigmatizing the idea of disability and expanding the definition. D’Souza wanted to get involved due to their own struggles with disability, as well as claiming and resonating with the term. They sought out ways to get involved with disability justice on campus, attempting to find a way to create cultural change around disability. D’Souza is using the assembly to advocate for people with all disabilities, creating an empowering environment for themselves and for the people in the community.
This assembly is being formed at a time when the university is being sued by Alejandro Diaz, a wheelchair user, who could not see himself in a bathroom mirror because it was mounted too high, according to official court documents.
Annenberg Media reached out to USC for a comment on the lawsuit but did not receive it by the time of publication.
“We're trying to make people aware about the idea of privilege within being able-bodied,” D’Souza said. He said he would like to use the assembly as a way to educate the community on how simple accommodations, such as being able to look at yourself in the mirror, means a lot to people who do not have access to those amenities. D’Souza will also attempt to create a conversation with faculty and educators on the importance of acknowledging students with disabilities, he said.
D’Souza and Afflick will present to the USG programming board, and the board will vote on Nov. 12, followed by a Senate vote on Nov. 19. If approved, the Assembly will be given a trial semester during which they will implement programming and establish a presence on campus. The Senate will then vote in April to amend the USG bylaws and officially incorporate the group, according to Howard.
“My hopes for SAA is that we can reclaim this word, ‘disabled,’ and use it for empowerment. I want to provide the disabled community here at USC, and allies, with an assembly that actively protects and represents their interests, as well as eventually create a physical space somewhere on campus for those disabled students and allies,” Afflick said.
USC Students can apply to be on the executive board by midnight Nov. 8.