The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) has approved the creation of a new student service group for students living with disabilities.
The motion that established the service group was passed unanimously at UMSU’s Sept. 10 council meeting after brief speeches by Andrew Fenwick, students living with disabilities representative for UMSU, and Rocco
Scarcella, former president of the Beyond Abilities student group. Beyond Abilities operates as an UMSU-sponsored student group working to promote accessibility for students living with disabilities.
The new service centre, expected to be called the Accessibility Centre, will serve students with disabilities much in the same way that the Womyn’s Centre and Rainbow Pride Mosaic serve women and LGBTTQ* students respectively.
Like the other service groups, the Accessibility Centre will be funded through UMSU’s endowment fund. Services provided by the Accessibility Centre will include a peer-to-peer mentorship program, workshops on job search skills and public speaking to assist students with disabilities in finding jobs, and ally training for accessibility advocacy, among others.
Like the Womyn’s Centre and Rainbow Pride Mosaic, operating funds for the service group will also go toward hiring a part-time services coordinator who can oversee those services in conjunction with the UMSU executive.
The idea for the student service group began with Scarcella roughly two and a half years ago, but according to him it didn’t gain any traction until after he began working with Fenwick on the project. After two unsuccessful campaigns to be the UMSU students living with disabilities representative with the hopes of establishing such a group, Scarcella began working with Fenwick, who he met during his first election campaign.
“I didn’t even know how to get it on the agenda […] I didn’t know the right people. I didn’t know how to actually propose the motion. And then something remarkable happened. I ran into Andy and I found the only other person [as passionate about] students living with disabilities as me,” Scarcella told council.
Scarcella told the Manitoban that the creation of the new student service group would play a critical role in ensuring smooth year-to-year transition of services and activities meant for students with disabilities.
“There’s always been, in one form or another, a student group for students living with disabilities. But there’s never been a student service group, so I tried to transition the student group into a student service group so it has longevity, so it stays. I found that each year student groups kind of drop off. So I’m hoping the service group, now that it has a coordinator and has funding, will last,” Scarcella said.
Fenwick also sees value in having the student service group status rather than being a conventional student group. He said that the new student service group will “allow students to come together and actually be a part of a community that would otherwise not be there.”
He added that student groups such as Beyond Abilities and Student Accessibility Services, meet that need now but that they both face significant limits in achieving their mandates.
As a basic student group Beyond Abilities is limited in their resources. As Fenwick explained, the Accessibility Centre is “a group that would still have limited resources but would have a much larger limit.” At the same time Student Accessibility Services, as a part of the university, is less capable of lobbying the university to increase accessibility services or take action to make campus more accessible.
UMSU vice-president advocacy Rebecca Kunzman and president Jeremiah Kopp have been working with Fenwick and Scarcella to help them bring the new service group to fruition since the summer and shared their excitement in seeing it established.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience working with them. And as I said at the council meeting, as much as I’m pleased to have been a part of the executive who’s a part of the council that made this happen, this really isn’t my project at all. It’s Andy and Rocco who’ve done all of the work for this and the folks that have come before them who worked so hard to make sure this happened,” Kunzman told the Manitoban.
“They’ve done all the work, I’m just happy that we could make it happen. It’s been a pleasure to work with them and seeing their passion, it really is just contagious.”