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UT campus leaders focus on accessibility, creates Commission for Disability

A Commission for Disabilities has been formed to address on-campus issues.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Leaders at the University of Tennessee are working to make a difference and make the university's campus more accessible for people with disabilities. 

They formed a Commission for Disabilities to address on-campus issues. It should raise awareness, improve conversations and help people empathize with people with disabilities. Those involved said it's a necessary change. 

"On Rocky Top, we have a family and if someone is not included in that, they don't feel like they matter and belong on our campus then we have more work we have to do," said student body president Karmen Jones. 

Many initiatives already address diversity and inclusion on campus, but the new commission recognizes disabilities as diversities. 

"We definitely want to uplift disability as a form of diversity, because it is. We often don't associate it. But we recognize people with different abilities can bring enriching experiences for everyone," said executive director of diversity and engagement Janelle Coleman. 

The newly formed Commission for Disabilities is made of students, faculty and staff with disabilities as well as people acting as allies. 

"We have students that need accessibility right now. So that need for a more accessible campus or more inclusive campus doesn't stop because COVID-19 and racism exist," said Jones. 

Addressing accessibility issues on campus is just one of their goals. They are also addressing accessibility issues with programming and working to improve engagement opportunities. 

"On one hand, yes it is surprising we have these issues but on the other hand, it's not surprising because of the size of the institution and the amount of work and things that people actually do on campus," said Coleman. 

Completing goals will vary in length, but members are confident they'll succeed and make Rocky Top a better place to be. 

"We have to make sure our students that have disabilities truly matter and belong on our campus. That's the mission of our university," said Jones. 

According to the CDC, almost 26% of adults in the US have some type of disability. The percentage of people living with disabilities is highest in the South.