Students with Disabilities: New Student Org Founded to Inform Through Community Building

By KATE CRISCITIELLO

VAN BARTH/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS
Amy Conaway ’20 (left) poses with her service dog and Graham Rainsby ’21.

Amy Conaway ’20 founded Middlebury Students with Disabilities in early September in an effort to create a sense of community and increase awareness of disabilities on campus. 

As someone who has type one diabetes (T1D), Conaway was inspired to start the club after her first two years at Middlebury, which she described as a difficult transition.  This change made her realize she was still coping with her disability, despite having been diagnosed with diabetes for nine years.

“When I started bringing my service dog on campus, a few people approached me with questions about getting classroom accommodations or navigating different aspects of college life with a disability,” she said. “That’s when I realized there was definitely a group of people looking for the same thing and looking for support in this process, looking for advice and also just looking for comradery.”

While Conaway and fellow club member Graham Rainsby ’21 have found certain aspects of the college, such as faculty and classroom accommodations, to be accommodating for people with disabilities, they believe there is room for improvement.

“The campus can be accommodating but you have to advocate for yourself” Conaway said. “It would make more sense to have a campus that is broadly accommodating to everyone.”

According to Conaway and Rainsby, the majority of Middlebury students with disabilities have “invisible disabilities” — meaning that the condition may not be apparent upon first glance.

“The interesting thing about starting this group is having people come out of the woodwork saying, ‘I do identify as disabled’ and who have had similar experiences,” Conaway said. “You really can’t tell because we all fly under the radar for the most part.”

Rainsby believes that when disabilities are not immediately apparent, other able-bodied students on campus often lack understanding, and Conaway has noticed a lack of both awareness and interest regarding disabilities. Combating ableism often seems to fall second to challenging other issues, such as sexism and racism on campus.

 Conaway hopes the new community of students with disabilities can help individuals build relationships and share support and advice through group meetings and activities such as dinners and movies. 

If you wish to join, visit the Middlebury Students with Disabilities Facebook page, or email Amy Conaway at aconaway@middlebury.edu.

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Students with Disabilities: New Student Org Founded to Inform Through Community Building