Credit: Coby Chuang | Mustang News

The Disability Alliance, a student-run club focused on creating a community for students with disabilities on campus, alongside a research team from the BEACoN Mentors program have created a proposal for a Disability Cultural Program at Cal Poly that currently has more than 200 signatures. 

The Disability Cultural Program is a stepping stone toward one day establishing a physical Disability Cultural Center on campus, according to the proposal.

Nicole Jacobs is the faculty adviser for the Disability Alliance and the mentor for the BEACoN research team who helped create the proposal. Jacobs said the program would promote disability pride, community and solidarity in a way that The Disability Resource Center (DRC) doesn’t.

“The DRC does invaluable, essential, legally mandated work,” Jacobs said. “But in their job description, they don’t necessarily have the time or resources to really focus on disability culture.”

BEACoN Mentors is a program designed to pair students from underrepresented groups with mentors to collaborate on research projects that they help to fund. The pairs are assigned in the fall and the teams work on their project throughout winter and spring. Their goal is to give students skills and experiences they can take with them into their careers. 

Jacobs said she had the idea to utilize BEACoN Mentors to help fund the Disability Alliance’s ultimate goal of creating a Disability Cultural Center, which has been a dream of theirs since the club’s formation. She signed up to be a mentor in the program and centered her research project around gathering information about other universities’ disability cultural centers and how they’ve impacted students.

Political science junior Chau Nguyen is the student mentee working with Jacobs on this project, and she spearheaded the creation of the proposal for the Disability Cultural Program. Through her research and conversations with various groups on campus, she and Jacobs realized that many people weren’t overly receptive to the idea of a Disability Cultural Center.

They then had the idea for the Disability Cultural Program, which Nguyen said they hope will demonstrate that there is demand for a physical space, as well as offer support for students with disabilities in the meantime. 

“We hope that [the Disability Cultural Program] would make the idea of having a Disability Cultural Center on campus more appealing to the administration,” Nguyen said.

Nutrition senior Hannah Heath is a member of the Disability Alliance’s outreach team. She said that programs and spaces like the ones they’re trying to create are important, as students with disabilities often feel isolated at Cal Poly.

“Disabled students at Cal Poly currently are invisible,” Heath said. “Right now, everything that’s supplied to disabled students is because Cal Poly is legally required to do so, so that they are following the ADA, but then that means that there’s a lot of things that we need that we simply don’t get.”

Heath said that things such as social programs or educational programs centered around disability help to give students support that they need to succeed in school.

“We’re hoping that [the Disability Cultural Program] will allow students with disabilities to have a sense of belonging on campus and also increased academic success,” Heath said. 

The proposal currently has 210 signatures and their goal is 500. Jacobs said that the progress her and Nguyen have made has been more than she ever expected, giving her hope that their wishes might one day become reality.

“I think that if we can pilot a disability cultural program and show that there’s demand, show that there’s actual need and show that this is actually being successful, that being able to follow up with a space would be pretty phenomenal,” Jacobs said.