Students using ASL through Zoom
Category: Discovery & Impact, Research, Student Experience

Title: McCourt student advocates to increase equity and inclusion for Disabled students on college campuses

As a G+JI Fellow, Saxena will focus her research on the Disabled student experience in higher education, exploring the roles of discrimination, exclusion and intersectional disempowerment — a theory developed by civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw on the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression. 

“Disabled students are a prominent and rapidly expanding population on college campuses, but they are often overlooked,” said Saxena. “Although federal policies are in place to better support these students, universities often do the bare minimum, and some are not even achieving that.”

Turning passion into action

Saxena has advocated for stronger disability policies for many years, beginning as an undergraduate student at the University of California San Diego. Now, as a graduate student at McCourt, Saxena serves as vice president of the McCourt Education Policy Initiative and founded the McCourt Disability Policy Initiative.

“Disabled students are often left to advocate for themselves,” she said. “My goal is to engage other stakeholders, including non-disabled students and administrators, in education and awareness on the issues facing Disabled people.”

“Disability student services offices are often short-staffed and underfunded,” said Saxena. “I have also found that their service offerings are not comprehensive enough.”

It is common practice across the country for students with learning disabilities to validate their disability through testing, creating a cost barrier that students with a visible, physical disability do not have to endure. “Encouraging students to report their disability is among the many challenges to recruiting and retaining Disabled students at universities,” said Saxena. 

In the future, Saxena would like to see greater government intervention. “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act are not enough,” she said. “I think there should be a federal incentive program for Disabled students, similar to the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) classification, where universities that enroll a minimum percentage of Disabled students have increased access to federal grants.”

With stronger policy language and enforcement practices, Saxena believes that more universities will provide inclusive environments and equal experiences for Disabled students.