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Updates from the OIEJB - Disability Awareness at SSFS

Updates from the OIEJB - Disability Awareness at SSFS

Disability Awareness

Recognizing the range of neurodiversity that exists on campus, and as we continue to expand the scope of our mission to foster a sense of belonging for every community member, the Office of Institutional Equity, Justice, and Belonging (OIEJB) is happy to announce our two-week celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). While students are certainly not employees, the adults who care for them at Sandy Spring Friends School are, and NDEAM coincides with both Dyslexia Awareness Month and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month; these diagnoses are just two of many that impact school and work for millions of individuals, even here at SSFS. You can read more about Dyslexia here, and more about ADHD here.

The language that we use around ability and disability can be complicated. For some people, the word “disability” carries a negative connotation. That said, in some settings—particularly public schools and legal circles—the word “disability” is part of litigation and policy, and is necessary to access resources that ensure an equitable educational experience for students with diagnoses that impact learning. To add further complication, the word “disorder” is often used in the medical community to refer to some of those same diagnoses, while in everyday conversations, some people prefer to use phrases like “differently abled” or “challenges” that avoid potentially negative connotations altogether. In all circumstances, the experience and preferences of those impacted by a diagnosis should be centered, since no one diagnosis means the exact same experience for any two individuals.

No matter what language we use, engaging in conversation to both ensure accommodation and to celebrate the valuable diversity of thought and ability at schools and workplaces is essential. SSFS responded to growing awareness of the need to support students with diagnoses that impact learning by establishing the Learning Resource Collaborative in 2017. Staffed by Learning Specialists across all three divisions, the LRC works closely with counselors and health suite staff as part of a school-wide initiative to provide students and families with both proactive and supportive services related to all aspects of a student’s development. When the OIEJB was established in 2021, SSFS sought to ensure that disability would be—to borrow a phrase from NDEAM—“part of the equity equation.” By appointing Upper School Learning Specialist Shannon Needham to the newly formed office, and working to bring an ability lens to our Heritage and History Month celebrations, the school sought to shed light on an aspect of identity that sometimes goes unacknowledged. 

Our celebration will include an Advisory lesson on October 30, displays, and a variety of other programming on campus. Watch the newsletter for more information and updates!

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