Services for Students with Disabilities is planning a spring 2020 graduation celebration for disabled students.
The program’s assistant director Emily Shryock said the ceremony is still in the early stages of development, so details have yet to be decided on. Shryock said the graduation will offer an opportunity to celebrate disabled students, acknowledge that they are part of UT and that they often face unique barriers and challenges.
“Disability graduation is the time to really recognize and honor certainly (the students’) accomplishment of graduating, but then also celebrating what they brought to our campus and wishing them well,” Shryock said.
There are currently other graduation ceremonies that celebrate specific identities on campus, including Black Graduation, Latinx Graduation and the Lavender Graduation for LGBTQ students. At these student-planned graduation ceremonies, students wear regalia unique to the celebration and listen to speakers.
Leslie Blair, the executive director of communications for UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said having students plan their own graduation ceremonies allows them to have a bigger role in their graduation.
“It’s just a way for the groups of students to come together to celebrate their achievements and put their own special brand on the celebration, since they do all the planning for it,” Blair said.
Students who need accommodations at the University’s main commencement ceremony can make accommodation requests up to five business days in advance, according to UT’s website. Emeline Lakrout, Disability Advocacy Student Coalition president, said she and her friends already have concerns about navigating the main ceremony.
“I’m going to have to talk to somebody about figuring out exactly where you’re supposed to walk and where you’re supposed to stand because I’m blind, so I can’t watch the people in front of me doing that,” Lakrout said.
Marketing senior Lakrout said she decided to be one of the students volunteering for the program’s graduation because she wants to help create an accessible ceremony.
“Something like (Services for Students with Disabilities) graduation — that’s not going to be a headache for anybody,” Lakrout said.
Lakrout said the planning committee is raising awareness about the ceremony after only one student attended the graduation reception last year.
She said she is excited to attend a graduation with other disabled students.
“I think it’s another step in the right direction of defining disability as a culture on campus, as an identity on campus (and) not just like a condition,” Lakrout said.