When Junior Onelia Mendive walked through the doors of UM her freshman year, she immediately saw a need for community within the disabled student population and resolved to create one.
In collaboration with the Office of Disability Services, Mendive co-founded The Disability Ambassadors Program and it became an approved student organization in November.
“Ten percent of the University’s population identify with having a disability,” Mendive said. “I felt a huge disconnect and I’ve had conversations with [disabled] people who felt like they were not welcome. That helped me decide ‘we’re doing this’.”
As co-founder, inaugural president, and a student with disabilities, Mendive said the main goal of the organization is to streamline college navigation for differently abled students, create safe spaces and foster awareness about disability across campus.
“We want to create an organization where students with disabilities and non-disabilities can come together, educate UM about disability and the different aspects of it, and also try to make UM more inclusive to those that have disabilities,” Mendive said.
The Ambassadors program is intended to be a resource for both current and incoming students with disabilities. Ambassadors are there to mentor, offer support and advice on academia, provide information about accessibility and external resources available on campus and generally help students with impairments adjust to college as much as possible.
Preceding this organization, Mendive had hands in launching a program with similar initiatives called the The Bridge Mentorship program. Facilitated by learning specialist and assistant director of UM’s learning initiative Morgan Anderson, this program paired new students with upper-classmen to facilitate a smooth transition to college in the face of impairments.
The success of Bridge encouraged Mendive to pursue The Ambassadors Program in the spring of 2022.
“I started working with the Camner Center and we created the bridge program,” Mendive said. “That spring my advisor Morgan Anderson and I talked about doing an organization [Disability Ambassadors Program] and in the summer, a bunch of us came together and started working on making the club a reality.”
Though still in its infancy, Mendive shared that other larger student organizations have taken interest in the Ambassadors program, and discussed the potentiality of collaborations.
“Our e-board is amazing this year, we are putting in the work and seeing results, ” Mendive said. “We have definitely gotten some interest from very big organizations, clubs being like, ‘hey, we have an interest in helping and working with you guys.’”
The organization has a slew of events planned for the rest of the semester including a collaborative discussion with medical fraternity Phi Delta Epsilon about disability and the healthcare system.
“We’re going to have two professors come in, a doctor who works for UM and a student with disabilities to about all aspects of healthcare and with disability, ” Mendive said. “We want to educate future doctors about disability because there’s a lot of ableism in the health care system, I personally have felt it and other people I know have too.”
Mendive also mentioned an intersectionality event slated for late April. The event will be a discussion navigating being a person of color and having a disability.
“That’s still in the very preliminary planning stages,” Mendive said. “But that’s one of the things that in our first meeting, we’re like, we’re doing this.”
The program is open for all UM students to participate, those interested can attend one of its monthly general body meetings. The upcoming one is on March 6 and Mendive says it will be a “de-stress” event in lieu of midterm season.
“Our general body meeting is to create community and bonds, ” Mendive said. “We plan to do it once a month and our goal is to educate people about disability. We also want people to come in and make friends – you can come chill, we have food and games.”
For updates on events, follow @disabilityambassadorsum.