Sarah Huebner found nothing when she looked for a support network and community of graduate students with disabilities.
Then she met fellow graduate student Ryan Machtmes, and the two formed the first advocacy and support group for University of Minnesota graduate students with disabilities in January.
The Organization for Graduate and Professional Students with Disabilities, which aims to create improved resources for graduate students, received $2,500 from the Council of Graduate Students in March, Machtmes said.
“Because so much emphasis at the college level has been placed at undergraduate, all the accommodation has been geared towards [undergraduates too],” he said.
The experience of being in graduate school with a disability is different than an undergraduate’s experience, Huebner said. Finding housing, switching doctors and finding health insurance are all challenges that most graduate students tackle.
“When you’re a graduate student, you don’t take classes the same way,” she said. “For a graduate student … you have a lot of different responsibilities at the same time. You teach, take classes and you do research.”
In addition, the group says it wants to address policy problems that are overlooked. Goals include decreasing parking costs and extending deadlines for students with disabilities, Machtmes said.
Nicholas Goldsmith, president of COGS, said the group is the first he knows of focused on graduate students with disabilities.
The group was funded for two years. COGS will vote on a second $2,500 next year, Goldsmith said.
Huebner said they hope to use the funding to develop a website and purchase subscriptions to programs that let members virtually attend meetings.
The group plans to collaborate with the school’s Disability Resource Center, she said.
In an email, DRC director Donna Johnson said it has helped spread word of the group to students registered with the DRC.
“Groups such as [Organization for Graduate and Professional Students with Disabilities] are important because they help in building disability community, culture and pride at the University of Minnesota,” she said in the email.
In the future, the group hopes to receive student service fee funding and offer grants to students. They plan on reaching out to Professional Student Government to collaborate and apply for funding.
“I would like to see a group … have a voice for the disability community,” Huebner said. “[to] make sure we’re including everyone in our definition of diversity.”