Senior uses her own experiences with disabilities to help others | News

Aside from just her in-class experiences, Jessica Wertz (senior, disability services) has been doing a lot to raise awareness and support for individuals with disabilities.

Wertz, who is hard-of-hearing herself, recently won IUP’s Emerging Student Leader Grant Award for her proposal for her Disability Education and Awareness Video Project. Wertz said there are two main parts to her project.

The first part will be interviewing IUP students and community members with disabilities so they can share their experiences about living, working and learning on campus. 

She also is interested in their thoughts on the accessibility of IUP’s campus.  

The second part of the project is a supplemental video series designed to educate faculty and staff about how to best work and help students with disabilities be successful in the classroom. 

Wertz hopes her project will “be able to educate IUP students, faculty and staff about people with disabilities at IUP and promote awareness and understanding among everyone who is a part of the IUP community by creating meaningful video resources that can be shared for years to come.”

Her project is not only for students with disabilities. Able-bodied people can help, too. This is why, Wertz said, advocacy and awareness efforts are important because people do not generally think about the barriers individuals with disabilities face unless it affects them. 

“I would tell able-bodied students that people with disabilities are capable of doing literally anything that they want to do,” Wertz said. “They just might do it a little bit differently than one might expect. People with disabilities are just like anyone else, and we are not defined by our disabilities.”

Wertz has also helped students with disabilities through her peer mentor job in the IUP Labyrinth Center. 

The center is a support group for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders that helps students adjust to college, learn how to become independent, build relationships with others and be successful inside and outside the classroom. 

Wertz teaches self-advocacy skills to students at the center. 

Wertz has used her own personal experiences to connect with other students with disabilities and share what she has learned in regard to navigating college. 

“I love it when I am able to share my experiences of…

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