Disabilities United Collective working to remove barriers for disabled students with mentorship program

The Disabilities United Collective (DUC) has launched a pilot mentorship program to connect upper-year mentors to first and second year UBC students who self-identify as disabled. Each mentee will meet their mentor for at least three meetings spaced evenly throughout the term to discuss obstacles, questions, seek assistance and build an organic connection. 

The program is a product of personal experience and passion. Farah Sadek, the general executive of DUC, said her own difficulties navigating university as a disabled student were a key motivation behind the initiative’s creation. 

“In my first year of university I was kind of slapped in the face," she said. "I was struggling really a lot in terms of feeling that I was incapable as a student, as well as just overwhelmed. I realized this isn't just me, it's so many students, and I wanted to start a program where students felt like, Oh, I'm not alone.”

For Sadek, access to the Centre for Accessibility was difficult because of documentation and procedural tape. The mentorship program is an effort to circumvent such roadblocks and give disabled students on campus readily available and personalized support.

Co-President Rabiah Dhaliwal said accessibility to the initiative itself is paramount to DUC. While most accommodations at UBC require a formal medical proof of disability, the mentorship program welcomes all students who self-identify as disabled.

“I've found from working in disability advocacy work that it can almost feel like you have to check all these boxes to be able to participate in something. So we're trying to really adhere to the social model of disability in the work that we do.”

The social model of disability centres social barriers disabled people face from full participation in society rather than individual biology, and focuses on social change as a primary solution.

The DUC mentorship initiative is also focused on a holistic approach to identity. Recognizing mentorship on one axis of identity can be restrictive, Dhaliwal said the DUC is seeking to match applicants with mentors with due consideration of their racial identity and sexual orientation. 

Mentors and mentees will also be provided with supplemental materials designed by the DUC to guide their meetings. 

While the flagship initiative is currently administered by the collective, Dhaliwal sees it being taken over by a larger body within UBC in the future that can better extend its coverage and impact. 

Sadek and Dhaliwal said disabled students' set of needs at university are more complex than those of the average university student and require appropriate support, which the mentorship program seeks to address. 

“A lot of students with disabilities are less likely to go into university than those of their able bodied counterparts. And I really would like to encourage anyone who has a disability and wants to go to university to do so,” Sadek said.