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Disability Cultural Centers with Carrie Ingersoll-Wood

Welcome to Episode 92 of the Think UDL podcast: Disability Cultural Centers with Carrie Ingersoll-Wood. Carrie Ingersoll-Wood is the Director of the Disability Cultural Center at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. In this conversation, Carrie and I talk about what in fact a Disability Cultural Center is, and what it is not. It is not your university’s Office of Disability Services. It is very different. We also discuss a little about the history of Disability Cultural Centers, why they are important, what they do, how UDL figures into them, and why we need them in Higher Education now.


Learn more about Syracuse’s Disability Cultural Center at their website

You can also follow Syracuse’s Disability Cultural Center on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn

Saia, T. (2019). Disability as an Identity: Disability Cultural Centers in Higher Education (Doctoral dissertation, The University of Arizona).

AHEAD (Association in Higher Education and Disability) gives a background on Special Feature: An Introduction to Disability Cultural Centers in U.S. Higher Education, Part I

The Importance of Disability Cultural Centers in Higher Education tells why DCCs are so needed today!




disability, cultural centers, students, UDL, cultural center, belonging, create, podcast, community, syracuse university, important, archaeologists, universities, people, learner, campus, professors, syracuse, inclusion, belong


Lillian Nave, Carrie Ingersoll-Wood

Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian Nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it, and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 92 of the think UDL podcast, Disability Cultural Centers with Carrie Ingersoll would carry Ingersoll would is the director of the Disability Cultural Center at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York. In this conversation, Carrie and I talk about what in fact, a Disability Cultural Center is, and what it is not. It is not your university’s Office of Disability Services. It is very different. We also discuss a little about the history of Disability Cultural Centers, why they are important, what they do, how UDL figures into them, and why we need them in higher education now, thank you for listening. And a special thank you to our sponsor, Texthelp. Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Thank you to the folks at the UDLHE network for their financial support of the Think UDL podcast. So welcome Carrie Ingersoll-Wood for joining me today on the Think UDL podcast, I’m so happy to have you. 

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  01:55

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Lillian Nave  01:58

I’m really excited to talk about disability cultural centers. So thank you for accepting my invitation to talk about them. But I’m gonna start with my usual first question, what makes you a different kind of learner?

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  02:14

I think you have to rewind to my childhood. To understand who I am today as a learner and how I approach education. I’m very curious, my interested, my interests in education are wide. And so I’m, I’m interested in everything. But principally, I want to make sure that as a former teacher, anyone I come into contact with has access to the information that they want, and that they want to research. Great, great. You know, I have learned so much alongside my children, as well learned a lot about who I am as a learner, from how different having three children can be. So I definitely see how that is such a bonus to anyone who, who teaches or is looking at their learning journey. The more people you know, whether you have children or not, we learned so much from those who are in our care. So Well, thank you very much for that. I am super excited. I’ve been talking about this in a couple other podcast episodes about I’m gonna get to talk to a Disability Cultural Center Director. And so thank you for being in. I wanted to start out with what is a Disability Cultural Center and what does yours do? Okay, so, Disability Cultural Center is not the same as a Center for Disability Resources, in that we do not provide the resources and accommodations that students would need in order to access curriculum more easily or for them. Yeah, what we’re doing is we are creating a larger sense of community. A Cultural Center is a space that is safe and supportive. It’s an environment for an opera underrepresented group on a college campus. Disability Cultural Centers really increase students with disability, their sense of belonging and community on campus. And it’s more than just a physical space, it. As I said, it creates that sense of belonging. So, exposure to other students who have disabilities and who are perhaps struggling with some of the same issues that they are, it creates a positive identity for them. And then that fosters that sense of belonging. And that’s what we do here. In the Disability Cultural Center, we really look to validate identity and create a positive experience for our students.

Lillian Nave  05:52

Wow, fantastic. I have noticed the word belonging a couple times there. And I have seen that the B for belonging has been added to d e i lately. And in fact, I’ll be at a conference about D IB, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And it seems that this is incredibly important that it’s not enough to recognize that there’s diversity or to bring in diversity, right? That that’s kind of step point five. So it was step one, it’s, it’s like the very beginning. And then we need to create equitable and accessible environments for all of those students. And the but we haven’t yet brought in that belonging part. And that’s just essential for the well being of the students, it seems. So the in the I forgot to mention the “I” is inclusion, and you would think that belonging is part of that inclusion. But I have noticed in the last couple years, that that that sense of belonging isn’t necessarily covered in inclusion measures. It’s a lot about creating a level playing field, so to speak, and including all students, but just because I include, let’s say, all the neighborhood kids in our game, it doesn’t mean they feel that they belong to the group. And so I appreciate that the diversity cultural centers are taking on this mantle of the idea of belonging, which seems to be so important to persistence and student success. Is that right?

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  07:43

I’m so happy that you included that last word persistence, because statistics show that when students with disabilities have a sense of belonging on campus, and they have identity as a disabled person that is positive, and disability is seen as diversity. And that creates that persistence to graduation. And it builds that academic self efficacy, that’s really important for them to see themselves as an integral part to the campus and not an add on.

Lillian Nave  08:20

Yeah, yeah, and so different from the other spaces on campus that have to do with disability. And we need other spaces, like an office of disability of services, which would help provide accommodations, but it is a radically different idea as to what happens in those two spaces. It’s, in fact, if you’re going to the ODS is what we you know what I’ve heard it Office of Disability Services, it is oftentimes the thing that singles you out, and makes you different from your peers, and makes you different in the eyes of your professors. And makes it hard for you to just be like everybody else. And that is for me, it’s just working against that idea of belonging, the opposite of belonging. And so there is I see a tremendous need for a place that provides this sense of belonging, a sense of other people like me on campus, a sense that I belong even with my differences, and maybe because of my differences. I belong on campus. So I I really appreciate this, this idea which is new to me, relatively new. And so I thought maybe you can help us understand a little about the history behind Disability Cultural Centers. Okay,

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  09:46

so Syracuse University, our Disability Cultural Center, was created by Diane Wiener and she was the first full time director of a Disability Cultural Center in our country. At Syracuse University, we probably have the first center that has a full time staff. And Diane was the director and her coordinator is still here. And she works with me now her name is Kate Corbett Pollack, and she belongs to the disability community, she is deaf, and is a wonderful spokesperson. And she is so fabulous and getting out into the community, and creating space for students to see and hear her narrative. And the way that she, her journey here at Syracuse University by coming here, and seeing inclusion in a way that made her part of a community was the first time that she had done that. So listening to her present, and watching her present is really just wonderful. So the cultural centers, historically, as you had already noted, didn’t exist inside of spaces that were student centered, like they were focused on their academics. And in too many times, in academia, what happens to students who have a disability that leads to a classroom, where they might have physical accessibility for the first time. And but that might require a lot of physical effort or visual effort. And it might stretch into beyond their capabilities. And then what happens is, educators professors begin to see them as their disability is a need for an accommodation, and it separates them from a positive identity at that point. And so that very assumption that a disabled student requires, and accommodation becomes a language that creates a deficit mindset, in Yes, in the minds of the professors, and then that transitions over to their peers. So, yes, a fabulous thing about the Disability Cultural Centers is that, as you know, disability is intersectional. Here at Syracuse University, we have the intercultural collective. And we are inside of intercultural collective, there’s the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and the LGBTQ Resource Center, and the Disability Cultural Center. And that way, everyone can come together, and enjoy the benefits of that accessibility, and the fraternity and mentorship that they can get while they’re here.

Lillian Nave  13:00

Yeah, in fact, I’ve also recently spoken, it’s another podcast episode coming out on intersectionality and UDL, and it’s a deep dive into those things. That’s with Danya. Bradshaw, so that will be coming out, as well. So listeners can take a look at that in correlation to this. But that’s really also very important because that’s disability is part of an identity. And we often talk about language, language, sorry, person first language. And there’s I know, there’s kind of a debate on on that because some people will want to be a person, first language, maybe say a person with autism. And more recently, it’s more as an identifier or an identity like autistic person. And I see with the Disability Cultural Centers, taking that term disability, and that’s no longer a negative identifier, but rather, is something that’s being taken over as a positive as an identity. More than identifiers does that sound correct to you?

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  14:13

It does sound correct to me. And while in education, we teach our, our student teachers that we are using person first language so that we are respectful of the individual, as you just said, but inside the Disability Cultural Center here at the university, those can often be interchangeable. But if you are saying I am a disabled student, and we are teaching students to be agentic, and to have advocacy and activism to combat ableism and you can do that by reclaiming the term. And then there’s power inside of that. So your language is very important. I’m so glad you pointed that out.

Lillian Nave  14:58

Yeah, and I’m just seen it. We’ve seen it in universities, and it seems to start in universities and then go all over about those initial initially negative terms that then are reclaimed by a group. And that becomes a positive, or it becomes the rallying cry or the thing that creates community. And that’s what I’m seeing now, especially with things like Disability Cultural Centers. So So why, then why now? Why do we need them now what I am seeing that there are more and more that there was maybe a dozen, and now there’s five or six more popping up like mushrooms now that we’re having more and more disability, cultural cultural centers? Why do we need them now? Why now?

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  15:51

Well, it’s because they belong in student affairs organizations, right? It’s the social aspect of the student experience, not having space for students with disabilities, is pretending that they don’t exist in our society. And that is absolutely against what we see. In the world. Yeah. As population. I mean, we’re just going to cut out disability and persons with disability. It’s ridiculous. So it’s, it’s a long time coming, that universities are catching up and saying that oh, wait, representation really matters. Let me just tell you that I recently met with a student just last week, and she is a wheelchair user, and she came into the Disability Cultural Center. And she was just in awe of how beautiful the spaces and it really is just gorgeous and accessible, and everything that it promises to have for her and to create a community. And that’s one of the reasons why she’s Syracuse is number one on her list. And she read to me, you know, several universities that are excellent institutions, but I am just tickled that we’re on the top of her list, because we offer her the visualisation, the representation, and a space to just be a student.

Lillian Nave  17:24

Yeah, yeah. And to be her whole self to be

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  17:27

myself and to bring her friends. And that’s another thing that’s so great about the Disability Cultural Center is that we are not just here, for students with disabilities, we’re here for everyone. And so bring your friends bring your family and we also seek to engage the community.

Lillian Nave  17:46

Yeah, so it’s not a restricted space, that would be countered to everything that you just meant, right? Because you also want to educate others about what disability culture is, I’m sure many people have no idea that that would be a culture, we might hear about different ethnicities, and think about different cultures or nationalities. But it is much more rare to think about or hear about disability culture. I think the best example, and the one I have heard the most is about Deaf culture. And I think people can, can bring that to mind more often than anybody else.

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  18:32

And that would be if you have a group of deaf students or a group of deaf people, they have their own communication, right. So that language is very different, the way they interact is different. And if you’ve ever seen the galgut football team, you see how they do things sometimes a lot better than a regular hearing team can do. Because they have ways to communicate even in a large crowd with Shouting Voices, right. And we just, it’s just one of these things that we’ve overlooked in I think, in the past. And one of the first thing she said is that it belongs in student affairs, because if we don’t, we’re acting like they don’t exist. And I’m here to say that with as a UDL specialist, we have so many different kinds of students that are now in higher ed that weren’t before. And yeah, there were a lot of spaces that disabled students were not in because they were literally or figuratively barred from entry. And we are just now figuring that out. And it’s not just physical disabilities, it’s also neurodivergent people and in all kinds of temporary or, or, you know, lifelong disabilities as well. So a lens, UDL gives me the lens to start seeing those assumptions that I make those barriers, and start dismantling them so that everybody has an equal opportunity to learn. And we want all of those diverse minds, to, to not only learn in that kind of mono directional with with the professor and the student, but also the other students to be learning from all of the other students. I was just reading, I thought this is hilarious. Just reading yesterday on how a lot of, say archeological finds are being reevaluated, as new archaeologists come into the field. And things like we never knew what this bone was that had markings of like 28 days and, and like, oh, we think it’s a ritual calendar. Like maybe for 100 years, we thought it was this one thing. And then a new female archaeologist comes and says, Oh, that’s, that’s a monthly tracker, you know, for a woman, a female period tracker. And, you know, that perspective hadn’t been there for 100 years or so. And, you know, we don’t know what all of these things are for. But that was never even thought of, until we had a diverse set of new archaeologists, right. And so that diversity is so important, but it’s not just having diversity, it’s being able to bring all of those minds in equity, having it accessible, and including them in that educational setting. And then, as you say, that sense of belonging because we want those students to persist, and this is one of the ways that they can persist. Yeah, I love that story. And making sure that you are thinking about individuals who have maybe sensory issues, and so that we are not infusing things inside of our classroom instruction that can be disruptive. Yeah. Yeah. And I can’t think, And then if your campus has student groups that have discussions that can link to your disability culture, and they also tackle ableism. And I can think about LGBTQ community, definitely connect with, because they’re going to also look for ways to help you set that up. include disability and campus wide events. And tag on to other groups where you can do that and look for initiatives with here at SU, we would call it the Center for Disability Resources. But in other campuses, that might be another name. I think you’ve said ODI. Yeah, with the Office of Disability Services? Oh, yes. Yeah, yeah, that’s it so so that you’re not being forgotten or neglected. So that’s a good way to connect. And then the other thing that I mentioned, that I hear and read more and more, is to make sure that you are talking to talking instead of your word, and you’ll understand why I just invented that. You’re talking to your marketing or your communications department to make sure that you are centering students who have a disability in your marketing materials, because that drives demand. Mm hmm. And then more students will reach out and say, Hey, I really want to go to X, Y, Z University. What do you have for me on campus in terms of a Disability Cultural Center, I see other campuses have these things. So look for higher ed groups. There’s a whole host of things you can do. And I’m happy to be a resource for people. Because I have Diane’s wonderful research that she did in order to create our DCC. And I’m happy to share that knowledge.

Lillian Nave  47:03

That’s wonderful. And I really appreciate that emphasis, and agree with the idea of nothing for us without us. Right? Yeah, so it’s not other people are creating this And isn’t this nice? It’s, what is it that we as a community need, and having this led by disabled students, and that can be physical or learning disabled, it’s, you know, in all of its forms, that they need to be taking charge, and hopefully, backed up by resources by administration by other professors and changemakers, who can support them. But that idea of nothing for us without us is, I think absolutely essential. So I am excited that we get to talk about disability cultural centers, there have been recent symposia about that. And new Disability Cultural Centers are on the rise. So I know several, I think, a handful, somewhere around under 12 are starting this coming fall in that 2022. So maybe by the time somebody’s listening to this years down the road, there may be hundreds. But I think we’re around 20 or so is that your estimation of how many Disability Cultural Centers there might be?

Carrie Ingersoll-Wood  48:44

I think quite possibly, is it coming into that I was under the understanding that there were less than 20. But yes, I was

Lillian Nave  48:55

12 Plus. Yeah, is 12 is the number that sticks out in my mind. Yeah, me too. Yeah, so somewhere under 20. And hopefully we can we can create more. And I just see the history of UDL coming out of universal design and accessibility is intimately related to looking at the world through a lens that says access for everybody. And then seeing that UDL is a design principle that we need to make that educational environment accessible and engaging, where everybody does persist, and they feel like they belong there. That it’s so similar to what disability cultural centers are doing, because they’ve seen a population that has been excluded, left out, or marginalized. And now there’s a place where that community can and kind of create a space for themselves. And I think it’s a really important I wanted to shine a light on it. So I really thank you so much, Kerry for spending the time to talk to me about the history, especially of Syracuse. That’s why I chose you guys, and, and for explaining why we need it and the difference of what a cultural center is for disability as opposed to what other disability areas might be on campus. Because I don’t think many people know the difference. So thank you very much. Thank you for your time today. It’s absolutely my pleasure, what a fun experience. Thanks for having me. You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released. And also see transcripts and additional materials at the website. Thank you again to our sponsor, Texthelp. Texthelp is focused on helping all people learn, understand and communicate through the use of digital education and accessibility tools. Texthelp and its people are working towards a world where difference, disability or language are no longer barriers to learning and succeeding, with over 50 million users worldwide. The Texthelp suite of products include Read and Write, Equatio and orbit note, which work alongside existing platforms such as Microsoft Office and G Suite, enabling them to be integrated quickly into any classroom or workspace with ease. Texthelp has changed the lives of millions worldwide and strives to impact the literacy and understanding of 1 billion people by 2030. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it App-a-lay-shun, I’ll throw an apple-at-cha! The music on the podcast was performed by the Oddyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell and Jose Cochez and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on The think UDL podcast!

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