Lecture series invites people with disabilities to discuss self-advocacy

April 4, 2023 (Volume 46, Number 15)
Article by Brian Vernellis

two people at podium, person on left with microphone; person at right is wearing a face mask; projector screen down and lit up in the background

Sarah Carmany, right, prepares to speak to students about self-advocacy as a person with a disability. At left is Mary Shehan, community inclusion coordinator for the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council.

Thanks to a Teaching Innovation Grant from the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, special education faculty members Julia Snider and Alexis Oosting have coordinated a lecture series, giving people with disabilities a forum to speak about their challenges and opportunities with self-advocacy.  

“Our thinking is everybody who is working in schools and working with individuals with disabilities should hear and learn from self-advocates,” Snider said.

Snider, assistant professor, and Oosting, affiliate faculty member, are both in their second year at Grand Valley and wanted to help their students get a better understanding of their coursework and make connections to real-world applications. Oosting said as they designed their lesson plans, they felt a big piece was missing.

“We really wanted to bring an opportunity not just for our students to learn about people with disabilities, but from people with disabilities,” Oosting said. 

“Self-advocacy is an important part of our course for both of us. Bringing in self-advocates who know how to do this work was important to us.” 

Sarah Carmany, vice chair of the Self Advocates of Michigan, spoke to students on March 21 to conclude the series’ run through the winter semester. The series will continue in the fall semester. 

Carmany spoke to an audience of about 160 students, either in attendance or watching online, about her self-advocate experiences in her daily life and as an entrepreneur running a home-cleaning business.

“Every person with a disability must become strong advocates to get what they need in life,” Carmany said. “Sharing my own story is important to me.”

Snider said the discussion with students continues following each guest’s lecture too, utilizing subsequent class time to analyze the presentations and construct applications their students can implement in their placements or jobs. 

“Many of our pre- and in-service teachers now provide their students with more choices to ensure their preferences are heard and valued,” Snider said. 

For students, the series has been a valuable experience, getting the opportunity to listen to people describe their lives and what they go through, said senior Darian Yee.

“It’s so interesting to me,” Yee said. “It’s been interesting to not only hear their firsthand experiences but experiences that are current, and get to talk with them after.” 

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This article was last edited on April 4, 2023 at 1:59 p.m.

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