After the cancellation of in-person graduation ceremonies due to COVID-19, Services for Students with Disabilities considered postponing the first-ever Disability Graduation. Then, they asked the students who were helping plan the ceremony, SSD assistant director Emily Shryock said.
“There still was a lot of enthusiasm, excitement and just a feeling that this is still really important maybe now more than ever because a lot of other things here related to graduation have been canceled,” Shryock said. “(After) hearing that from students, we continued moving forward.”
In the weeks since, SSD has worked with students to create an online plan for the celebration.
“We really did want input and did want it to be something that was owned by the various disability groups on campus,” Shryock said. “A lot of the planning came from students, because this is for them.”
The ceremony will take place on May 20, at 2 p.m., and anyone can livestream the event or watch the video after. According to SSD’s website, there will be student and staff speakers, videos, a message from SSD and a slideshow of graduates.
Last year, Shryock said SSD hosted a postgraduation reception. She said the idea came from seeing other departments in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement host graduations for their populations to acknowledge the different experiences they have.
“Sometimes, they're experiencing more barriers in their time at UT, and (we realized) that that's true for students with disabilities as well,” Shyrock said.
Though psychology senior Jacqueline Guevara-Ramirez said having the first one online isn’t optimal, she still plans on attending the ceremony and thinks the online platform could even offer some benefits to disabled students.
“(It) might actually be a little bit more accessible to some students compared to an in-person graduation,” Guevara-Ramirez said. “It's a good way to test the waters and see what could be improved for the next one that's coming around.”
Shryock said SSD hopes to host an in-person ceremony next year, but may explore options to also offer virtual participation.
Physics and astronomy senior Kasturi Bandyopadhyay said immediately after finding out about the ceremony from an email from SSD, she decided she would attend.
“It was super exciting just because acknowledging the fact that (as) a student with disabilities, graduating is also a big deal all in itself,” Bandyopadhyay said.
As a disabled student, Bandyopadhyay said she didn’t always feel like college was for her. With all the other postponements, Bandyopadhyay said she’s glad SSD made the choice to hold the first ceremony online, even though they could have easily pushed it to next year.
“People with disabilities have worked just as hard, if not harder than everyone else to get to the same place, (and that) is something that's worth acknowledging and celebrating,” Bandyopadhyay said. “Understanding that I'm able to now celebrate that, ‘Hey, yeah, college was for me and other people like me,’ … I think that's awesome.”
Shryock said all disabled graduates, whether they are registered with SSD or not, are welcome to join.
“This is not SSD's graduation,” Shryock said. “This is Disability Graduation that we are hoping to host.”