Suzanne Stolz is a creator of disability curriculum for high school students

Suzanne StolzSuzanne Stolz, Ed.D. serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego. A former high school English teacher, administrator, and leader of disability programs, she has expertise in online instruction, curriculum design, mentoring, school culture, Universal Design for Learning, and disability studies. Her research, related to conceptions of disability and disability pedagogy, often includes reflection about her experience as a disabled student. She has created disability curriculum for high school students, for out-of-school time programs, and for disability mentoring. She advises a student organization, Alliance of Disability Advocates, and also serves on the board of the Society for Disability Studies. Suzanne is especially passionate about working with preservice and inservice teachers to rethink their conceptions of disability and create inclusive school communities. Annually, she leads a fellowship program for general education teachers who want to become leaders of inclusion at their school sites.

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Hi, I’m Suzanne Stolz. I’m, I’m an assistant professor at the University of San Diego, and I have formerly been a teacher and leader of various disability-related programs, including a mentoring program for disabled youth here in San Diego. I also currently run a fellowship program which we are now calling Teacher Leaders for Inclusion, in which local teachers come to the university for a week-long series of workshops to really learn to become leaders at their school sites. They take what they learned back to their schools and share with their colleagues and become a support to their colleagues who are really trying to do a better job with inclusion.

When I think back to my first experience with access issues, I mean, growing up with a disability, I think it was always part of my experience, but when it became really a big deal to me was when I was getting ready to go to high school and the local high school did not have an elevator. And I was finishing eighth grade getting ready to have a surgery, and would be using a wheelchair when I started high school. And so the school was quick to recommend that I be bused to another district that had an accessible school. And I very much wanted to attend school with my classmates and with my siblings and with the community I had grown up with. And I did actually attend the school that I wanted to. However, there was no elevator.

And so I dealt with it by, I remember having a science class that was in the counselor’s office and consisted of just the counselor running upstairs and finding out what the class was doing and, and bringing that down to me. And then also after I had healed from that surgery, I managed going to classes upstairs by having classmates piggyback me upstairs. So access was a big deal to me then, and I think about what I had to do to maintain relationships with my peers to maintain that access. So anyway, those are some of my early experiences with access. I was in high school when the ADA passed. And, you know, I remember there being a shift in thinking, in my thinking, and about just being able to expect, not that I expected everything to be accessible, but I felt like I had a right to it at that point. And that I could complain about something legitimately after the ADA had passed. I remember friends of mine who would call ahead to a restaurant and say, do you have wheelchair access? And I would be annoyed by that because I would say, wait a minute, I am just going to show up because there should be access. So anyway, I remember the ADA really making a shift in my thinking about what was reasonable to ask.

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So I think that’s kind of a common thing that disabled folks know about, like, yes, there has been a difference, but, in some ways, some things still haven’t changed. So we can have this legislation that says things are supposed to be in place. But I think a lot of people are surprised when they find out that 30 is it 30? Yeah. 30 years later, that a lot of things are still not accessible. My own neighborhood just a couple years ago, got curb cuts to make sidewalks to be accessible. So you know, I think there’s some understanding that infrastructure takes time, but who would think 30 years, you know. I also have thought about it in relation to COVID happening this spring and having employment and being able to work from home. I didn’t at all feel worried about losing my job because I needed to protect myself and stay home.

And I think that’s because people know what the ADA is now, and they know that there are these protections, you know, that workers with disabilities who are perceived to be disabled, have these protections. However, when it comes down to how much have people’s attitudes changed? Again, I think some attitudes have been changed, and still we have a ways to go. I question how much the ADA has changed employment prospects for disabled people of color. You know, I think that it has changed employment for me, but I wonder, you know, whether it really has impacted…I know that it hasn’t impacted, you know, everyone equally.

For me, my hot button is always education. It’s where I work and it’s where I first became an activist because of my school experience. And so for me, I think education is key to all the other things that we want access to. And so I, what I want to see is better, better inclusion in schools. I think that we need to be really creative about embracing the many human differences there are, and really listening to folks with lived experience as we recreate the structures of schooling.

And I would also like for there to be more access to disabled mentors for, for kids and for families who are, families who are learning about disability.

I think the next steps are always to question “Who is being left out?” And question, “What can we do about that?” Those, I think, are steps that we need to continuously take. I don’t think those are steps to take and then go, “Okay, we did that.” I think that’s just a process that we have to always, always have.

In partnership with Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed.
Author: Beyond Awareness: Bringing Disability into Diversity Work in K-12 Schools & Communities, and children’s book Ed Roberts: Champion of Disability Rights, ADA 30th Anniversary Edition

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