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Accessibility in Extracurriculars

Last updated on April 23, 2020

By: Olivia Massaro, ’21

Building a strong foundation in academics, as well as extracurriculars, is one of the many themes that make up the fabric of one’s collegiate path. Student organizations at Saint Joseph’s University understand and enforce the importance of non-academic related activity for students to align with their studies. Over the years, the program has grown and continues to cultivate an extensive list of art, sport, service, health, and culture related clubs for students to choose from. It is within this process where the student can freely explore new skills that are otherwise unattainable from the classroom. Furthermore, these clubs act as solid ground for students to construct sturdy and everlasting social relationships with fellow members of the campus community.
So where does the concept of accessibility come into play with extracurriculars at SJU? Let’s talk.
Accessibility is equally distributing access to resources, services, products, and opportunities amongst everybody. It is a vital concept to employ in everyday life, and even more important to consider as a student organization. In the perfect scenario, each club should be able to articulate their mission on inclusion for anyone in any physical condition. Accessibility does not stand alone in this conversation either. Maintaining flexibility for all students looking to get involved, ensures that each club is keeping their distance from misfitting. 
According to Rosemarie Garland-Thompson in, Misfits: A Feminist Materialist Disability Concept, a misfit means treating someone like a “square peg in a round hole”. This awkward attempt to fit the two together is exactly what all clubs and activities should aim to avoid. Meaning, as club leaders cultivate activities, events, and projects for their members, they are to keep each avenue as universal as possible.
SJU’s Hand in Hand, is the leading club that remains cognizant to ignore misfitting. They actively spread awareness, interaction, and unity amongst SJU’s community and individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. In light of their efforts, they host an annual carnival in the spring semester with the help of approximately 1000 buddies and volunteers. The event is centered around the inclusion of physical ability to gather together for the same cause. These students are welcomed to join, work, and coordinate details for the day’s event, no matter of any physical ailment.

I spoke with Colleen Kelly, junior and Kinney SCHOLAR, to further discuss what is being done in terms of extracurriculars for our students with disabilities.

O: “Tell me a little bit about the activities for Kinney students regarding the arts.”

C:  For younger clients especially,  music and dance is always a fun activity to bring the entire group together. In previous years of Camp Kinney, a wonderful music therapist has come and played songs for the clients, which is always well-received. The Kinney Center does a great job of allowing the clients to channel creative energies in order to continue making progress!”

O: Tell me a little bit about the activities for Kinney students regarding sports.

C: “Kinney’s Sports Program takes place on Saturdays throughout the school year and is open to all ages. Depending on the time of year, the programs offered include swimming, basketball, soccer, and yoga. During this program, each client will be working on skills tailored just for them while receiving one-on-one support from one of the SCHOLARs.”

O: What does an ordinary day working 1-1 look like and how do sports and arts accelerate the student’s learning experience in your opinion?

C: “Working 1-1 throughout the semester is an amazing opportunity as you are able to watch the steady progress of the client. The Kinney Center allows the individuals it serves to thrive in many environments including both academic and recreational settings through sports and arts in the programs. The students typically show interest in carrying out the rest of their day while knowing they will be immersed in physical, non-academic, self-expression.

O: Do you think that normal clubs at SJU are universally designed for disable-bodied students?

C: I think clubs at Saint Joe’s, with the magis mindset, do a good job of preaching inclusivity to all people of all abilities. I think all clubs should always try to strive to be the best they can be for all individuals and progress can always be made to achieve this goal.

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Photo Credits to Saint Joseph’s University

SJU’s Student Organizations can take important lessons from Kinney’s line of work. Three main takeaways branch from my conversation with Colleen and can be used as stepping stones for every group’s progress towards accessibility. By channeling creativity, funneling support, and encouraging extracurriculars, ANY student can fit as a peg in our community. As we knit the gap between abled and disabled, we are knitting the fabric of accessibility with close to no boundaries. In this way, we are building a full and bountiful collegiate academic experience for each and every Hawk.
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