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Celebrating Disabled Graduates: VCU's Inaugural Accessibility Achievement Ceremony

In a world that often overlooks the accomplishments of individuals with disabilities, it is crucial to recognize and celebrate their achievements. The Disability Accessibility Achievement Ceremony is an extraordinary event that marks a significant milestone in the journey towards inclusivity and recognition of the accomplishments of students with disabilities. This blog post captures the essence of this inaugural ceremony, which emerged from a collaboration between ASDCC, SAEO, and OMSA. Let us delve into the inspiring story behind this groundbreaking event and the remarkable individuals who made it possible.

The Disability Accessibility Achievement Ceremony at VCU is a groundbreaking initiative that sets a precedent among universities nationwide. As the first cultural achievement ceremony specifically dedicated to students with disabilities and chronic conditions, it showcases the university's commitment to inclusivity and diversity. This historic step highlights the importance of recognizing and celebrating the achievements of disabled students, who comprise a significant portion of the student population.

The impetus for this ceremony stemmed from a thought-provoking interaction between Ellie Bavuso, the current president of ASDCC, and Joshua Lockhart of OMSA during an event on cultural achievement ceremonies. Inspired by Casey GagIiardi, co-founder of ASDCC, Ellie questioned the absence of a cultural achievement ceremony for students with disabilities, given their substantial presence on campus. This conversation sparked a year-long aspiration, ultimately resulting in the fulfillment of a shared goal to include disability in the list of cultural achievement ceremonies.

The Disability Accessibility Achievement Ceremony provides a platform for individuals to share their personal stories of triumph over adversity. These stories inspire others to embrace their abilities, pursue their dreams, and overcome societal barriers. By amplifying these narratives, the ceremony fosters a sense of hope and determination among individuals with disabilities, empowering them to reach new heights.

Emceed by Majesta Dore, one of the co-founders of ASDCC, the ceremony featured an array of remarkable speakers who shared their empowering stories. Dr. Myriam Kadeba, Director of OMSA, delivered the opening remarks, setting the tone for the event. Student speakers Sade Shepperson and Anasia Mapp captivated the audience with heartfelt speeches, offering words of encouragement and solidarity to their fellow graduates.

The guest speaker for the ceremony was Hannah Setzer, a rebellious writer, movement enthusiast, and disability activist. Known as @HannahVSetzer on Instagram, she shares her experiences with a wide audience and authored the highly acclaimed book of essays, "I'll Pray For You And Other Outrageous Things Said to Disabled People." Hannah's captivating speech emphasized the significance of perseverance in the face of adversity and ignited a sense of empowerment among the attendees.

At the ceremony, participating students were honored with a braided six-stranded cord, meticulously assembled and braided by ASDCC and OMSA volunteers. Each color in the cord represents a unique aspect of the disabled community: red for physical disabilities, green for sensory disabilities, gold for neurodivergence, blue for mental disabilities, white for invisible and undiagnosed disabilities, and black to honor victims of abuse and ableism. These cords symbolize the strength, resilience, and unity of students with disabilities.

Dr. Ian Kunkes, Director of SAEO, delivered the closing remarks, emphasizing the importance of including disability in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) measures. He acknowledged the long-awaited nature of this ceremony and highlighted its pivotal role in advancing the cause of accessibility and inclusion.

The inaugural Disability Accessibility Achievement Ceremony at VCU is a testament to the power of collaboration, determination, and the unwavering spirit of advocates for disability inclusion. This event not only celebrates the achievements of students with disabilities but also serves as a catalyst for societal change. It demonstrates the university's commitment to fostering an inclusive and accessible environment for all members of the community. As we reflect on this historic ceremony, we are reminded that by recognizing and embracing the talents and contributions of individuals with disabilities, we move closer to creating a truly inclusive society.

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