By: Javacia Harris Bowser
When Albert Schweitzer Fellow Kate Hultquist started her part-time job at Samford University’s Office of Accessibility and Accommodations, she wanted more than some extra income. As a graduate student in social work, she was hoping the job would also give her an opportunity to be more involved in campus life at Samford. Turns out, the gig did this and much more.
“I started meeting with students and just started becoming passionate about being an advocate and an ally,” Kate says.
“I did not recognize just how many barriers they’re up against,” she says of students with physical and invisible disabilities. “Even when the environment is great, there are different attitudes and stereotypes that are working against them.”
Through the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, Kate hopes to do something about this.
For her fellowship project, Kate will create accessibility-focused inclusivity training for leaders of student organizations at Samford. After the mandatory training, the student leaders will then be prompted and guided through hosting at least two events that include at least two accommodations for students with disabilities. Kate’s hope is that these efforts will help students with disabilities become more active on campus.
These accommodations could include having closed captions available for the hearing impaired or having access to food available for students with diabetes. Organizations could also strive to include descriptive captions on social media posts for visually impaired students.
To develop the training, Kate has used several resources including books such as Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally by Emily Ladu, along with knowledge she’s gained in her role at the Office of Accessibility and Accommodations.
Kate is grateful that the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship has given her an opportunity to pursue her project and is offering her the guidance and support she needs along the way. But she feels ASF is boosting her career in other ways too.
“I think it really aligns with social work values and the mission of social work,” she says of ASF. And Kate adds that she always looks forward to the monthly meetings that the ASF leadership team hosts for fellows.
“They’ve done such a good job of bringing people in the community to the meetings so I feel like I’m growing as a social worker because I’m more aware of community resources that clients can take advantage of,” she says.
Kate is confident that her project will have a lasting impact. There are plans for Samford’s Office of Accessibility and Accommodations and the Office of Student Success and Diversity to continue offering the training after Kate’s fellowship has ended.
And the end of her fellowship certainly won’t mark the end of Kate’s work to be a better ally.
She knows that no matter what area of social work she decides to focus on, she will most likely at some point in her career work with someone with a disability.
“So it’ll always be relevant,” she says. “Disability impacts everybody.”
Even beyond her project, Kate is looking for ways to bring about change in all her spheres of influence at school and even at church.
“Something that’s interesting that I hadn’t considered before is a lot of people talk about how, if you don’t have a disability now, you probably will someday, because a lot of it comes with aging,” she adds.
Kate believes that regardless of what she decides to do once she finishes her social work program at Samford, her passion for helping people with disabilities will not wane.
“Even if I don’t do disability social work in an official capacity,” she says, “I will always be an ally and I will always be learning more.”