The Stanford Disability Community Space celebrated its grand opening on Tuesday via Zoom. Located in the former student lounge of the Office of Accessible Education, the mission of the space is to enable students with disabilities to find community and feel comfortable exploring their disability identity.
Tuesday’s event marked the culmination of decades of disability activism on the Stanford campus. Calls to open a disability-focused community center have been a priority for disability activists at Stanford since the 1980s. In 2017, the Abilities Hub (A-Hub) was launched as an interim space. Efforts to launch a more permanent community center have stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Approximately 19% of Stanford students have a recorded disability, encompassing a wide range of individuals and unique conditions, from those with physical disabilities to those with neurodivergence.
“It’s been a rough road, but it really worked for us,” said sixth-year doctoral student Frank Mondelli. student and former ASSU co-director of the defense of the rights of people with disabilities. “I’m so excited to see what the next steps are.”
When ’20 Bryce Tuttle started his career at Stanford, he said “disability wasn’t even on the list” in conversations about diversity on campus.
“When you asked most people, they wouldn’t even be able to describe what disability meant in terms of diversity or in terms of identity or community,” Tuttle said.
For Tuttle, the opening of the Stanford Disability Community Space marks a significant step forward in disability recognition. He said trying to convince people that disability matters was a difficult journey in itself. “Seeing 43 people in this Zoom now when it felt like sometimes we could only get three people in a room to talk about it is just an indescribably amazing feeling,” Tuttle said.
Brittany Tewari will be the Space Coordinator. Tewari, who was born with cerebral palsy, has dedicated much of her life to advocating for people with disabilities.
“I have always noticed the specific injustices and oppressive systems that many people with disabilities face,” Tewari said. “I think it’s really important that we address this in higher education, because it’s the first time many of us are discovering our independence and our own individuality.”
Tewari works with student coordinators Eric Hatch ’23 and Amari Pierce ’24 to create programming for the community center. Together they will plan weekly events including educational workshops, community building activities and office hours for students to spend time and build community. The team will also collaborate with other disability organizations at Stanford.
One of Tewari’s current projects is to create a specialized report on disability for Stanford’s IDEAL survey to find out how the University can better serve the disability community.
The Disability Community Space is designed to be as accessible as possible to people with disabilities. All furniture is on wheels, so it is easily moved and interchangeable. There are several sets of doors that allow easy access to the student hall and accessible bathrooms. Tewari also invests in dimmer switches to accommodate light-sensitive people.
While disability justice and education are some of the main goals of the community center, Tewari reminded attendees that “a large part of the disability community also resonates with each other and creates this community and builds that foundation of comfort and trust.
Tuttle highlighted how much work remains to be done, saying the community needs to keep “what we have here and fight for it, because the community is the key to organizing, which is the key to justice.”