Wedged between the frostbitten days of February in which we champion Black History Month and scorching summer nights that make up Pride Month in June, March finds us coming together in support of National Disability Awareness Month.
Though often overshadowed in the public eye by the equally important Women’s History Month, National Disability Awareness Month was founded in the same year of 1987. President Ronald Reagan officially made the declaration with Proclamation 5613 on February, 27. It is in such proclamation the president spoke of bright futures stating “Americans are becoming increasingly aware that such disabilities need not keep individuals from realizing their full potential” and that through working together we can “open new doors to independent and productive lives.”
Traveling 30 years and 6 presidents into the future, the message and mission sought out by Reagan is still in action today — even within IUPUI’s community with the help of IU Student Success Corps. As a collaborative project extending across IU’s regional campuses, the Student Success Corps acts an educational effort aiming to provide tutoring, mentoring, and workshops for youths on a state-wide level. But in going above and beyond such a service for alternative and supplementary learning, the program leaders saw first-hand the growing opportunity to show support to a wider audience.
“When we first started, that is before COVID, we only had a handful of students [with disabilities]. But since March of 2020 — after the big switch to online learning — that was when we saw the number going way up,” said Chris Chalker, Program Coordinator for Student Success Corps. “With the amount of scheduling from parents who say their kids were falling behind, we saw those numbers tripled.” But this was not just a regional occurrence. Such a gap has become recognizable on a national level going on to make headlines in publications like The Washington Post.
Rest assured, taking on such a challenge was not without its own reward. “Student Success Corps means not only helping students with areas that they’re either failing at or struggling mightily with,” says Chalker. “Though equally important to that is the connections and mentoring. Sometimes it’s problems they’re having in their homes, other times it’s typical parent-teenager or even college stuff. But Student Success Corps is about helping students meet their goals and achieve success in the areas of life that go beyond academic.”
With the chosen theme for this, the 30th anniversary of this celebration, being “People, Not Punchlines,” Chalker offered a few parting words about the program and its many student volunteers. “I think the thing about our program,” says Chalker, “is that the tutors make things so comfortable that students want to come back over and over again.” This point is then accented with a story of an exemplary case of socializing and relationship building, a teenage non-verbal student working on their certificate of competition. “We’ve gotten close with the family over the years, and they have said ‘It is like night and day because he has come out of his shell.,’ And jokingly adding ‘– almost too much.’”
Despite the month coming to an end, just with any awareness campaign, there is always work to be done no matter the time of year. To learn more about the IU Student Success Corps program, please visit their website. Along with this, if you would like to learn more about how to help raise awareness and understanding of disability issues in Indiana, please visit the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities website.