DREAM members meet with Liza Sylvestre via zoom. Photo provided.

As the inaugural Curator of Academic Programs, I access and inclusion are integral guiding principles in my work. I am a person who has lived with a disability my entire life, so I understand disability to be an identity category; a source of creativity; a fact that has often been painful, excluding, and isolating; a lesson in empathy; and a condition that has taught me about the ways non-normative issues connect people across seemingly distinct identity categories. I think of both access and inclusion as broad concepts that demand we think about them in broad ways—for example the pandemic has revealed how zoom is a site of incredible access for many people with disabilities but also underlines the privilege involved in owning a computer, having access to the internet, and having time, space and energy to jump on a zoom call.

The University of Illinois has a long history with disability with support and programming around disability, access, and inclusion focused on academic access, which is invaluable, but distinct from programs that might support coalition building or inclusive creative outlets that would increase the quality of life of students with disabilities.

For these reasons I am working closely with DREAM@UIUC, a student-led chapter of the national Disability, Rights, Education, Access, and Mentoring (DREAM) organization for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities and disability allies. We have held regular shared film screenings and discussions around disability in film that have also involved the student organizations Sexual Health Peers and the Society for Minority Students in History .

I am also partnering with PACE, Inc (Persons Assuming Control of their Environment), an independent living center which supports the efforts of people who have disabilities to achieve or maintain independence, aiming for full participation of persons with disabilities in the rights and responsibilities of society. PACE is run by and for people who have disabilities: their board of directors requires a majority of people with disabilities, ensuring that their services are designed by people who have personal experience with disability. We have developed specialized tours of KAM for individuals with different disabilities that prioritize multisensory learning and experience. I am also working with Applied Health Sciences on academic programs that would pair students studying disability with individuals who are disabled to promote equity between the often-hierarchical dynamics of care-giver/patient, non-disabled/able bodied.