Disability Empowerment and Advocacy at YSU

By Frances Clause

Youngstown State University’s Disability Services strives to create an accessible community where people are judged on their ability, not their disability. On Sept. 25, a presentation in Kilcawley Center informed listeners on the importance of disability empowerment and the various types of advocacy.

Kathy Foley, executive director for Independent Living, and Laura Gold, advocacy and disability rights coordinator, led the presentation, “The ABCs of Advocacy, Disability Empowerment and the Americans with Disabilities Act” in the James Gallery.

For 35 years, Foley has been an advocate for individuals with disabilities.

“Advocacy is supporting a cause, trying to change something or making a point,” she said. “There are three different levels including self-advocacy, individual advocacy and systems advocacy.”

Individual advocacy means standing up for the rights of someone who has a disability. Foley said she and Gold enforce this by presenting on the local, state and national level about issues impacting the lives of people with disabilities.

“Disabilities can be visible or invisible,” Foley said. “It is important to remember to listen and let the person with the disability set the pace.”

Zach Mosca, a sophomore journalism major, agreed that presentations like these are essential for people to have a better understanding of the way disabilities work.

“Unless I tell someone, people don’t know that I have a learning disability,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to learn as much as possible and attend these presentations.”

Mosca said YSU’s Disability Services has helped him have a better college experience.

“Once I was taking a difficult test, but someone was breathing heavily and distracting me,” he said. “I had my head down and didn’t write anything because I just couldn’t focus.”

Mosca said Gina McGranahan, assistant director of disability services, assisted him quickly, moving him to a quiet room so he could resume the test.

“I explained the situation to her and she completely understood,” Mosca said. “It was nice because after that, [McGranahan] arranged it so that in the future, I could take tests in a quiet setting.”

McGranahan’s job is to accommodate students to make things accessible to them. Accommodations are based on the students’ needs and are done on a case-by-case basis.

Mosca lives with Asperger’s, a developmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication.               

“Sometimes my disability makes college harder for me because I stress more than I want over the workload,” he said. “It’s frustrating to see other students adapt so much easier than me at times, but I’m thankful for the help offered by disability services.”

Some students show concern about accessibility on campus for those who are physically disabled. Mykaela Wagner, a graduate assistant, noticed issues with buildings while giving campus tours.

“I am in Ward Beecher a lot, and it has a ramp but not an automatic door opener,” she said. “Sweeney, the admissions building, doesn’t have an automatic open door for their front doors either.”

John Hyden, assistant vice president of facilities maintenance, said every building on campus is in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“There are no requirements to have automatic door operators, and [YSU’s buildings] actually have many additional ones,” he said.

Hyden also said the accommodations are considered based on what disabilities are prevalent in the student body.

“For example, if there are many students that use wheelchairs and no visually impaired students, we will pay more attention to obstacles that the students in wheelchairs may face on campus and improve those first,” he said.

Facilities is currently working with someone who has a physical disability to determine what areas on campus need improvement.