Press "Enter" to skip to content

Student, professor spearhead Disability Empowerment Week

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Smith

Elizabeth Smith (‘22) and Dr. Sarah Parsloe are teaming up with Accessibility Services to present Rollins’ first Disability Empowerment Week, beginning March 7. The week will feature a total of seven events, including a book talk, dinner, and dance. 

“What I started with was seeing the challenges that I was facing on campus, and I took that frustration and I said, ‘How can I turn that into something that I can change on campus if I can, and what can I do about it?’” Smith said. 

In Fall 2020, Smith approached Parsloe, who specializes in the communication of disability identities, with the idea to dedicate an entire week to disability awareness. In December 2020, the pair applied for and received a diversity infusion grant from the Diversity Council at Rollins. 

“We want to create a culture of acceptance and inclusion here at Rollins, where we can help people to think about disability–not necessarily in terms of pity or in medicalized bodies, but instead as a culture and as a source of pride,” Parsloe said. 

The week’s events are made possible through partnerships with Accessibility Services and other departments on campus, including the Social Impact Hub, the Department of Theatre & Dance, the Student Government Association (SGA), the Democracy Project, and Olin Library. Parsloe and Smith are also partnering with Lighthouse Central Florida for Dining in the Dark, an event in which community members eat while blindfolded and reflect on the experience. 

On Monday, Parsloe will engage students in a dialogue based on her recently co-authored book, “Falling in Love with the Process,” in which a stroke survivor’s relationship with his body pre- and post-stroke is explored. 

Smith and Parsloe said that they curated the week’s events with the goal of “bringing together groups of students to talk about their experiences on and off campus, as a student with a disability or as an ally, and to identify ways in which people are being both included and excluded.”

When asked what students can do to advocate for disabled students on campus, Parsloe said, “I think a big part of being an ally advocate is learning more about [the disabled community] that oftentimes is left out when we have conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion.” 

Parsloe recommends students educate themselves by taking classes related to exploring themes such as disability, body, and identity. She also recommends tapping into disabled communities across social media to learn more about their everyday experiences.

Parsloe said that advocating for people with disabilities can also mean “…thinking about how ableism or prejudice against people with disabilities manifests in the way you talk about disability. [For example,] assuming that somebody with a disability wants to be cured and their experiences are pitiable, which really sets this negative tone that makes it hard for the person to accept who they are.”

Outside of Disability Empowerment Week, Smith is working closely with Bethann Durlin, director of Accessibility Services, to address on-campus accessibility issues raised by the accessibility audit administered in 2019. Smith said that she and Durlin have discussed implementing training programs and certifications surrounding disability for faculty, staff, and student leaders.

“I hope that the event will bring awareness to the experiences of those with disabilities, in order to create more allies around campus to support our efforts towards a more accessible campus,” Durlin said. 

Below is a list of the Disability Week events. To RSVP for any of these events, please use this link.

Monday, March 7

Disability Story Circle

  • 4-5:30 p.m. in the Faculty Club
    • This event is open to all students. Join your peers to share your story and hear theirs!

Book Talk

Tuesday, March 8

Disability Pride Flag Raising

  • 12:30-1 p.m. on Tars Plaza
    • Watch the Disability Pride Flag be raised.

Dining in the Dark

  • 5-8 p.m. in Kathleen W. Rollins Hall Galloway Room 300  
    • In partnership with Lighthouse Central Florida, experience a light meal with a blindfold on, followed by a reflection. Must RSVP for a ticket. There are limited seats for this event. Suggestion donation of $5 to support this organization.

Wednesday, March 9

Inclusive Dance Event

  • 4-6 p.m. in Lakeside Studio
    • In partnership with the Rollins Dance Association, learn about inclusive dance and participate in a dance session.

Student Government Association (SGA)

  • 7 p.m. in Galloway Room
    • SGA will host Bethann Durlin, director of Accessibility Services, as a guest speaker during their senate meeting. Open to all students!

Thursday, March 10

Crip Camp Documentary

  • 6 p.m. in the Suntrust Auditorium · Co-Sponsored by Rollins Democracy Project
    • Watch an award-winning documentary about the Disability Rights Movement followed by a discussion and special guest: “The mother of disability rights” Judy Heumann.


  1. […] Disability Empowerment Week made its Rollins debut last week, featuring a series of activities recognizing and celebrating disabled people. Dining in the Dark consisted of a guided, blindfolded dinner in which attendants experienced a sliver of what visually impaired people experience on a daily basis.  […]

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.