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SJU & Kinney Center: Autism and Accessibility

Last updated on April 30, 2020

The idea of an accessible campus is accessibility for all. This semester with Project Bloom, we were introduced to the depth of the term “accessibility”.  Project Bloom was started by the Communications department at SJU, and is an effort to widen the discussion of accessibility on campus, from accessible buildings to universal design. Something that stood out to us throughout this semester was that accessibility goes beyond wheelchair access.

As a society, we have been conditioned to think about accessibility in  a way that focuses on physical disability. This has led to wheelchair accessibility being almost “the face” of accessible spaces, however this persepective can be quite exclusive. To expand our view on accessibility we must consider what has to be done to provide access to the greatest amount of bodies. This requires examining accessibility through a different lens, where things like gender, age, race, mental health, learning impairment, physical impairment, speech impairment, hearing impairment, visual impairment, social impairment, etc. are all considered in order to approach accessibility in a way that is inclusive to all.

Saint Joe’s is unique in that we have the Kinney Center, which is something that goes beyond wheelchair accessibility by working towards improving accessibility for people with autism on campus and in the surrounding community.

According to Autism Speaks, Autism is defined as “ a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication”. Autism affects about 1 in 54 children in the United States, therefore advocacy is more important than ever. For the last 50 years April has been National Autism awareness month . The month officially kicks off on April 2nd where it is celebrated by lighting up the world in the color blue.

During autism awareness month it is important to spread kindness and knowledge about autism signs, and symptoms. Autism awareness month is celebrated through a variety of events which are meant to spark action. Typical events during this month are fundraisers, walks and hands on awareness activities. The multitude of events hosted for autism awareness all follow the yearly theme. For the year 2020, the theme is “Celebrate Differences”. Advocating for inclusivity of all disabilities and celebrating the differences is exactly what we are trying to do with our work here at Project Bloom. To learn more about autism and what you can do to help check out the Autism Society’s website or these podcasts.

One of the most newly popular awareness activities is the displaying of sensory friendly movies at select movie theatres. During sensory movies, the lights are turned on and the sound is turned off in order to be sensitive towards the children’s senses. Children are able to freely express themselves during the showing of these films, something they would not be able to do at a traditional theatre. Autism accessibility requires a focus on different types of sensory stimuli to create environments that are not overwhelming to individuals with Autism. This accessibility can also extend to online spaces, where designing for users on the autistic spectrum requires a unique approach.

The Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support is an incredible resource for SJU students living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), as well as a resource for members of the larger Philadelphia community affected by ASD. Kinney Center opened in October 2009, and is closely linked with the Saint Joseph’s campus. Their mission is “to educate and train the autism professionals of tomorrow, while supporting and serving the individuals and families affected by autism today.” While the programs and events Kinney Center is involved with range from summer camps and skills trainings, to sport programs and field trips for children and adults, they also have a large impact on Saint Joseph’s campus.

ASPIRE is a fitting name for their program that provides support and resources to SJU students with ASD. This program works with students individually to help them reach their full potential on campus, teaching skills such as time management, independent living, and social skills. The main goal behind this program is to improve the accessibility of campus for all bodies, especially those who may experience a more difficult transition to college life.

Along with providing resources to those with ASD, Kinney center is also working towards inclusivity and accessibility in a larger sense by providing education in Autism Behavioral Studies for SJU students. These programs provide important training and hands-on learning experiences for students wanting to work in the field of autism support.

In learning more about ASD, autism advocacy, the Kinney Center, and their relationship with Saint Joseph’s University, we wanted to gain first person insights from a student on our campus. We decided to interview Tate Frycynski, who is a sophomore at Saint Joseph’s University majoring in Interdisciplinary Health Services and minoring in Biology and Autism Studies. We felt Tate would be a great person to share his experiences as he has Autism Spectrum Disorder, works as a Kinney Scholar, and is a mentor in Kinney’s ASPIRE program. He gave incredible insights into his view of campus accessibility, his experiences in the Kinney Center, and how the ASPIRE program works on campus.

Q: Had you heard of the Kinney Center before attending SJU campus?

“I had never heard of the Kinney Center before I came to Saint Joes. Or I did in an open house, but I had never went into it until I decided I wanted to work there my second semester of my freshman year.”

Q: Would you say SJU campus is accessible?

“Yes, I would say it is because of the Kinney Center. With people with autism for example, they have the ASPIRE program which helps people on the spectrum who are going to college with what different social cues there are and how to help them get used to campus. You have a peer mentor, which I am this semester, and a mentee. I am assigned a mentee, so basically I get to help that person make their way through campus. What is nice about the program is you get to know your mentee and help talk to them, having a buddy on campus, helps them with their transition and helping navigate, and relating to them. The accessibility on campus with that and the Student Success Center and Students with Disabilities Center have helped me a lot to succeed and have definitely helped others.”

Q: What sparked your interest in working at the Kinney Center?

“You get to work with kids, adolescents, and adults on the spectrum in different programs and work with them on what needs they have. I was interested in seeing what goes on and how ABA works because I remember going to Early Intervention, ABA, and other therapies as a kid. I kinda wanted to see what it was like to actually be the person, on the other side, doing this work.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working at the Kinney Center?

“I really find it interesting doing skills and working hands on with kids. I saw what I went through and I can see that ‘Wow, this really does help people’. Working hands on is amazing because I can see how the kids progress, how they grow up, and know that hopefully I did something to help them for their future.”

Q: How do you view the relationship between SJU and the Kinney Center?

“The Kinney Center has their own program with their own clients that don’t go to Saint Joes, but they align through the ASPIRE program. I found it amazing when I first started working there, how they do things to help students who go to school here.”

We would like to thank Tate for sharing his experiences and giving us first person insights into how autism is supported on SJU campus. The Kinney Center is doing amazing things for the SJU community and individuals on the autism spectrum. We are lucky to have them as a resource on campus, however, we shouldn’t stop there. The Kinney Center is a great example of an inclusive approach to accessibility, and they make it clear that accessibility can take many different forms, but the inclusion of all bodies in society is of the utmost importance. SJU should make it a priority to continue working towards new avenues for accessibility and inclusivity on campus to provide access to all past, present, and future members of our campus community.

-Alexi Arias ’21, Shea Conboy ’21, Mariela Diaz ’20, Lauren Jett ’21

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