The University of Minnesota launched a new group for employees on campus this summer with the aim to build an inclusive community led by and for University employees with disabilities.
The group, called Disabled Employees at the U, is the first ever community for the disabled University employee population. Members of the group will give each other advice, support and learn from one another, among other activities.
"The purpose of the group is to kind of carve out a place where faculty and other employees at the University can be vulnerable, can learn about themselves, can explore identity without the pressures of having to explain it to other people who might not get it," said Corbett Laubignat, a co-chair of the group and access consultant at the Disability Resource Center.
University employees can join different affinity groups, but there was not previously one for disabled employees, according to Chris Luhmann, a co-chair of the group and a DRC access consultant.
"We saw the need to create a group like this for people to come together," Luhmann said.
The group is still growing, and is currently made up of four officers and 56 members.
"I think it is great to have an affinity group for employees to show we care about diversity and inclusion as employees for the University of Minnesota," said Dann Trainer, an access consultant for the DRC’s Student Access unit.
Letting people know that they are not the only ones living with a disability is important, Laubignat said.
“I think when you experience a disability, it can be very isolating until we learn to break from that isolation by calling it out and inviting people to identify as disabled and be proud of that identity,” Laubignat said.
In addition, members of the group can learn about each other’s disabilities.
“Everybody has their own disability, but they might not be aware of other disabilities and how those impact people,” Luhmann said. “We want to create a space where we can talk more about different types of disabilities so people can learn about them more.”
Laubignat said the group will be able to discuss important topics like the best ways to navigate campus, create friendships and manage health care.
The group plans to have an event in October to celebrate Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Most events are going to be for members only, because group members want it to be a safe space for their community. The group plans to have an event open to the public in the spring semester.
“We really want people to understand that disabled people have a history and that some of those historical ways of looking at disability have done more harm to us than help,” Laubignat said.