Syracuse University Magazine

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The Disability Cultural Center offers social, cultural, and educational programming, and serves as a gathering place, welcoming those with and without disability identities.



Creating a Culture of Inclusion

Inside the Disability Cultural Center on campus, numerous posters illustrating social events and activities are piled up on a bulletin board. A set of cozy, dark blue linen sofas sits along a wall, facing a small shelf full of DVDs and videotapes. Chairs line the middle of the room, and a flat-screen TV rests on a wall. Students come here to work, study, and hang out. “The center has all the resources and appliances we need,” says Eddie Zaremba ’13, an entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises major in the Whitman School of Management. “It is really special that this kind of place exists. We have our own space, kind of like home. It is a safe, inclusive space.” 

Established in fall 2011, the Disability Cultural Center (DCC) moved to its current location in the Hoople Building in February 2012. “What we do here is social, cultural, and educational programming for students, faculty, staff, and community members with and without disability identities,” says Diane Wiener, director of the DCC. “Everyone is welcome.” The center’s main purpose is to raise public awareness and promote access and inclusion on campus, including ensuring buildings and educational environments are accessible for everyone. Wiener values disability as part of a diverse culture, and the center aims at changing negative stereotypes and teaching others how to embrace disability. “Disability is part of identity sometimes,” Wiener says. “It is part of what makes us unique. Race, gender, ethnicity, class, political persuasion, personal interests, and family backgrounds—there are huge differences among people, and disability is one of those. Disability interacts with them.” 

The center, part of the Division of Student Affairs, works collaboratively with the Office of Disability Services, which offers academic-related services to students. It also has a strong connection with such local organizations as Arise, Enable, and Move Along. For example, the center and Move Along co-host Orange-Ability, a basketball game played by people in adapted wheelchairs. The event raises awareness of wheelchair users among students, and shares the message that sports are for everyone. 

According to Wiener, the center serves as a hub, enabling social networking and communications based mainly on disability issues. Although the DCC is modeled after the Disabled Student Cultural Center at the University of Minnesota, it is the only university-based disability center run by a full-time staff member. As part of her work, Wiener also helps other universities interested in developing cultural centers and addressing disability issues. As the DCC continues to grow, its biggest challenge remains to educate people who have misconceptions about people with disabilities. These misunderstandings remain a worldwide problem. “Inclusion is a tricky issue,” says Kiel Moses, a master’s degree student in disability studies at the School of Education. “It is hard to fully create inclusion in reality.”  —Jingnan Li