August 2016 – A Reflection on the 2016 National AHEAD Conference

Past AHEAD President Bae Awoniyi started out the conference by putting a voice to our collective pain, grief, and frustration over the tragic events this summer. Her remarks served to remind us that disability services—a field dedicated to advancing the civil rights of students with disabilities—is firmly rooted in social justice. While many of our roles on campus may not be directly related to a particular identity group or direct social action, there are always ways in which we can learn from and support one another in advancing this good work. Consider working with a colleague to facilitate an event on campus, starting conversations in your own spheres of influence, and continuing to educate yourself on social justice issues.

Other notable moments/sessions from this year’s conference included AHEAD’S own Adam Meyer, Director of Student Accessibility Services at the University of Central Florida, who encouraged us to consider the emotional reaction—the gut feeling—that students and faculty have to our offices, and how those feelings shape their interactions with us. Whether it’s McDonald’s, Apple, Southwest Airlines, Student Activities, or Disability Services, every organization has a unique brand that generates a behavior-influencing emotion in its target audience. Adam tells us that the trick is to be intentional with our office brand. Focus on identifying your office’s core purpose and values, and shape your branding elements (office name, tag line, mission statement, website content, customer service approach, etc.) to match.

Many of us acknowledge that the graduate student experience is different from the undergraduate experience in a lot of ways. It follows, then, that the needs of graduate students are also going to be different. But how intentional are we to shape our services and programs to work for graduate students? Do we instead try to have graduate students fit the undergraduate services mold, square-peg-round-hole style? Felicia Peck and Rick Gubash’s presentation on the Disability Resource Center’s graduate student outreach at UC Santa Cruz reminds us that for graduate students, the non-standard is standard. Flexibility and creativity in services and programs to meet their needs is crucial.


Adam Crawford is a student affairs / disability services professional at The Ohio State University. He has a B.S. in Sociology and M.S. in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Missouri State University. Adam serves as Chair of the Standing Committee on Diversity for the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), and as Treasurer for OH-AHEAD. For questions about Adam’s portion of this month’s blog please e-mail Adam at:



From Deanna Arbuckle’s presentation titled “There’s an App For That” to the closing Plenary’s “round table discussion” with Dr. Bea Awoniyi, Susan Burch, Chris Lanterman, and Jo Anne Simon – my first National Conference was enlightening, inspiring and entertaining.  National conferences give you the opportunity, not only to meet new and inspiring professionals in the field, but also to reconnect with familiar friends and colleagues.  This is where the great exchanges of ideas and philosophies on disability in higher education happen.  For once I was able to sit in rooms with great minds like Past AHEAD President Bea Awoniyi, Jo Anne Simon, Adam Meyer, Scott Lissner, Paul Grossman and so many other forward thinkers, as opposed to tuning into their newest webinar or e-mail/list-serv responses.

We also got to hear this year from the inspiring Rachel Kolb.  Rachel spoke to conference attendees about her experiences transitioning to college and receiving the services necessary to achieve success despite barriers at every turn.  Rachel now advocates for individuals with hearing impairments and frequently talks to large audiences about living in a hearing world.  Rachel’s message is an empowering one that I think all students with disabilities could learn from.

Aside from the outstanding programming, Indianapolis was wonderful venue.  For anyone who has not yet been to Indianapolis, it is a beautiful city with a remarkable amount of attention paid to universal design and accessibility in it’s city planning.  The downtown area is almost entirely interconnected by an indoor “sky-bridge” system making it possible for people to travel from their hotels to the mall or restaurants or various other connected destinations.  This no doubt makes life much easier and enjoyable for individuals with mobility limitations and wheel chair users, but also for able bodied individuals who are trying to duck out of the rain.  Indianapolis, for me, perfectly illustrated how much good can come when we incorporate all levels of ability into the planning and construction of our public spaces.  I greatly enjoyed the welcome from Dr. David Hampton who spoke on behalf of Indianapolis Mayor, Joe Hogsett. Dr. Hampton serves the Indiapolis community not only as it’s Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Engagement but also as a Senior Pastor at the Light of the World Christian Church.  During his speech Dr. Hamtpon warmly and graciously welcomed conference attendees to his city, but also affirmed that “disabled lives matter” in a touching response to Dr. Bea Awoniyi’s call to action in her opening remarks.

Albeit somewhat relucantly, I returned from this year’s AHEAD conference, rejuvenated and re-inspired to do the work that we do and look forward very much to the next time that I have the privilege to attend our organization’s national conference.

Alex Ecklund is currently an Accessibility Coordinator in Student Accessibility Services at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.  He earned a Master of Arts in Counseling at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.  For questions about Ale’x portion of this month’s blog please contact Alex at: