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The MSU is well on its way to launching Maccess, its newest service. As the name suggests, Maccess will cater to students with both visible and invisible disabilities, with the goal of peer-based support and advocacy.
“What’s different about this [service] is that it’s peer-centric and that it also helps to capture students who maybe suffer with acute disabilities, so that captures students who deal with mental health concerns,” explained Giuliana Guarna, VP (Administration) of the MSU.
“We know there’s a desire for peer support and we know there’s also a desire to have an advocacy component that teaches students self-advocacy and also in the sense of campaigns and educating the campus, and advocating to the university.”
Guarna hopes the service will help prevent students from feeling “othered,” and while Maccess does not have a confirmed space yet, due to the logistics of physical accessibility concerns, she stressed the importance of finding a non-medical space. “Many students don’t find the medical resources to be sufficient,” she explained.
She also hopes Maccess will pioneer a better ally system for students with disabilities. While Student Accessibility Services runs its own version of the program, she said, “Many of the students who are part of the ally program don’t actually have a disability. So they don’t really appreciate the nuances of navigating the university while having a disability.” The service would hopefully launch a version of the program where students with disabilities could share tips about accommodations.
Ultimately, it will be Alex Wilson, the service’s newly hired coordinator who will work to shape the service. The selection committee, made up of Guarna, Brandon Stegmaier, the MSU Services Commissioner and Nishan Zewge-Abubaker, the MSU’s Diversity Services Director, worked with a set list of competencies to find a candidate who fit the job description. “[We wanted] someone who understands what is currently happening on campus with regards to disability and what services already exist,” explained Guarna. “Second, we are looking for someone who can build an inclusive space that would operate under an anti-racist framework and that had knowledge of intersectionality.”
To Guarna, Wilson displayed all the qualities the committee looked for. “I think he has a very thorough understanding of the role of peer support based on his role with SHEC. He also has a very strong understanding of working with campus and our community partners,” she said.
In regards to the role that lived experiences with disability played in hiring, Guarna said that the committee never said that they were exclusively going to hire someone with a disability, visible or invisible.
“We never even said we were going to hire someone with a disability. I mean, obviously we would hope that we do, because they’re going to have that more nuanced understanding; however, I don’t think it’s even fair for us to have to expect a student to self-identify, because again, that is a barrier. And that in itself creates a barrier for those students, having to say, ‘I have this disability.’”
Wilson, for his part, is looking forward to taking on his new role. Starting in January, he will work six hours a week on developing the service, a job he will continue over the course of the summer, the goal being to officially launch the service September 2016, though it remains to be seen in what form.
“The next few months will be very dynamic as we look at how the collaboration between SAS, SWELL, SWC, HRES and Maccess turns out.” He also cited that finding a permanent, readily accessible space was another factor that would be vital in getting the service set up.
While progress has been made, the Maccess has a long way to grow yet, and it will be exciting to see how the new advocacy service develops.