Kimberly Caceci ’20 and Ari Domeraski ’20 saw a need for increased awareness about the experiences of people with disabilities at Ithaca College, so they set out to do something about it. The two students created Disability Education, Alliance and Resources at Ithaca College (DEAR@IC), an organization that won best new student organization at the 2019 Office of Student Engagement Awards.
“I’m so proud of us. Everyone on my executive board deserves the award too, because it was all of us that won the award,” said Caceci, who serves as DEAR@IC’s president. “I’m still stunned a few months later, but the award gives me hope that we can continue all the good things we’ve started.”
DEAR@IC’s mission statement says the group aims to “form a community for people with disabilities and allies to come together in a safe and accepting environment.” The organization works to educate the IC community about different disabilities, promote the welfare of students with disabilities on campus, and provide support and resources to community members.
During her sophomore year, Caceci wrote an op-ed in IC’s student newspaper, The Ithacan, describing her experiences as someone who is Hard of Hearing. Domeraski reached out to express his support, and the two decided to start DEAR@IC.
“We wanted to create a safe space for people with disabilities and give allies a space to learn and offer their support as well,” said Domeraski, DEAR@IC vice president.
In its first year, the club organized more than six disability education panels, an initiative where groups of students with disabilities visit classrooms to answer questions about their experiences. Caceci said the questions they received varied by class. For example, students in an occupational therapy class asked about how they should approach stigmas in the workforce and working with patients with disabilities.
“The majority of the reactions have been positive,” said Caceci. “Many of the professors whose classes we visited were appreciative that we found people to come and share their stories.”
DEAR@IC also held a larger panel event in Emerson Suites in March 2019, titled “Then and Now: Preparing for Life after College with Disabilities.” The panelists, who included students, faculty, staff and professionals from the local Ithaca community with disabilities, discussed their experiences at college and gave advice for preparing for life post-graduation.
“We’re incredibly proud of the work by the students in the DEAR@IC organization,” said Ashley and Patrick Bohn ’05, M.S. ’07, IC staff members and the group’s co-advisors. “They’ve worked hard to provide visibility and a voice to an often underrepresented and unseen population on campus. We are hopeful that the campus culture around disability will continue to improve and that as awareness increases, so will accessibility and inclusion.”
Caceci said DEAR@IC’s executive board learned a lot about running a student organization during their inaugural year, and plan to continue and expand their initiatives during the 2019-20 academic year.