In 1950, my grandfather’s life took an unexpected turn when he contracted polio while pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor. Confined to an iron lung for months and paralyzed from the waist down, his journey was fraught with physical and societal obstacles. Yet, he persevered, marrying my grandmother, completing his college education, and defying expectations by establishing a successful family medical practice.

Growing up, I was captivated by the stories of his resilience in the face of adversity. One particular tale resonates deeply—a testament to the power of support and advocacy. Upon his return to college, wheelchair-bound and facing accessibility barriers in the buildings his classes were in, a group of football players stepped up daily, lifting him up the stairs to attend his classes. Their unwavering solidarity not only facilitated his education but also symbolized a beacon of hope in a world often indifferent to the needs of people with disabilities.

Today, as we reflect on my grandfather’s journey, his story intersects with a pressing issue on college campuses: the alarming rates of sexual violence against students with disabilities. According to a study by the Association of American Universities, individuals with disabilities experience sexual violence at significantly higher rates than their non-disabled peers. Shockingly, one in three students with disabilities becomes a victim of sexual violence during their time on campus.

Yet, despite the staggering statistics, the voices of these vulnerable individuals remain largely unheard in discussions surrounding campus safety and sexual assault prevention. The federal government’s research on campus sexual assaults often overlooks the unique experiences of students with disabilities, perpetuating a cycle of invisibility and neglect.

So, how do we honor the legacy of support and advocacy exemplified by the football players who lifted my grandfather up those stairs? How do we extend that same sense of solidarity to protect and uplift students with disabilities today?

Firstly, we must prioritize the accessibility of college sexual assault programs and services. This includes ensuring that resources are tailored to meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities, from providing alternative formats for educational materials to offering accessible reporting mechanisms.

Secondly, we must amplify the voices of individuals with disabilities within the broader conversation on campus safety. By actively engaging with disability advocacy organizations and fostering inclusive dialogue, we can create spaces where their perspectives are valued and their experiences are acknowledged.

Moreover, the recent recognition of people with disabilities as a health disparity population by the National Institutes of Health signifies a crucial step forward. This designation opens doors to increased funding, research, and initiatives aimed at addressing the unique challenges faced by individuals with disabilities, including the intersection of disability and sexual violence on college campuses.

In honoring my grandfather’s journey, we must commit ourselves to creating a future where no student feels marginalized or unsafe because of their disability. Just as those football players lifted him up those stairs, let us lift the voices of students with disabilities, ensuring they are heard, supported, and protected every step of the way.

 

authored by Amanda Graves, Fahrenheit Creative Group