NC State recently hosted a virtual conference that brought presentations from the annual Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) “Equity and Excellence: Access in Higher Education” Conference to NC State staff members.
Mark Newmiller, director of NC State’s Disability Resource Office, attended the in-person conference from which the virtual presentations were taken. He reported on what the conference is about and why it is important to NC State.
Diversity Digest: Why is the AHEAD conference of particular interest to you and your staff, and how can other NC State staff members request access to the virtual presentations?
Mark Newmiller: The AHEAD conference provides an opportunity to acquire tips, tactics, curate ideas and hone approaches/processes. It is an international conference that provides extensive continuing education, professional development and networking. We hope to be able to participate virtually each year and offer all members of the NC State community an opportunity to attend. To request access to this year’s conference, contact Rebecca Sitton in the Disability Resource Office.
Diversity Digest: What were a few of this year’s memorable conference presentations, and how do they relate to our work at NC State?
Mark Newmiller: The opening plenary was especially provoking and inspiring. It reinforced that if we can persist with creating an accessible campus environment, students with disabilities can not only accomplish their academic goals but excel beyond our institutions. Haben Girma, J.D., plenary speaker, defines disability as an opportunity for innovation. Students with disabilities are an asset, helping universities innovate with access solutions. Jamie Axelrod (Northern Arizona University) and Paul Grossman (Hastings Law School) presented on “Individualization, the Interactive Process and Fundamental Alteration determination.” This session was helpful as they outlined how these issues have helped inform OCR processes and decisions at other campuses.
Diversity Digest: In looking at issues at the forefront of educational access for students with disabilities, what did the conference highlight as some of the current and/or emerging trends that are on the minds of disability resource providers in higher ed in the present moment?
Mark Newmiller: Leadership through social justice, disability studies and disability cultural centers; universal design in all aspects of campus life; and the long-term invisibility of disability from campus diversity initiatives. Students with disabilities are coming into higher education with much more complex limitations, and institutions need to be innovative and ready to adapt to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to participate. Embracing universal design for learning principles will not only lower the need for accommodations but will increase the engagement of all students in the learning environment.
Diversity Digest: As director of NC State’s Disability Resource Office, did you obtain any key takeaways from this year’s conference, and if so, what were they?
Mark Newmiller: Attending the conference gives me the opportunity to network with other directors across the country. We share our processes and procedures and discuss ways to improve their effectiveness. A key takeaway, for me, is that I am lucky to have such a dedicated, experienced and innovative staff that really exemplifies “Think and Do.”
Diversity Digest: Does this conference happen every year, and who do you feel would benefit from participating?
Mark Newmiller: The AHEAD Conference is an annual event. Anyone that may, will or does interact with people with disabilities would benefit from participating.