ADA 30th Anniversary and disability discrimination: Reflections from a Tennessee college student

Olivia Murry smiling

Olivia Murry is a senior at Next Steps at Vanderbilt. Though she is taking a deferment year from the inclusive higher education program during the COVID-19 pandemic, she remains connected and committed to disability education and advocacy.

In July, Olivia was invited to serve as a panelist for a webinar briefing sponsored by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD). The CCD is a coalition of national organizations working together to advocate for federal public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration, and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society.

The briefing was held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It gave Olivia an opportunity to share more about Next Steps and her college experiences and goals, and to celebrate the impact that the ADA has had in her life.

The CCD’s Education Taskforce hosted the briefing, which was presented in collaboration with Senator Bob Casey, Congressman Mark Desaulnier, Congressman Jim Langevin, and Congressman Don Young.

In the webinar and in the interview below, Olivia talks about her college classes, internships, and shares a speech she wrote on disability discrimination for her Public Speaking class.

Tell us about your college experience and how the accommodations and supports you get through the Next Steps program are helping you achieve your goals.

Next Steps at Vanderbilt University is a four-year program for individuals with intellectual disability. It allows me to attend college and have a full college experience. While at college, I attend Vanderbilt classes, learn new things, and get to know my classmates and professors.

For each of my Vanderbilt classes, I have an Independent Learning Agreement (ILA) that my advisor develops with my professors. This ILA is a revised syllabus that outlines the assignments and projects I will complete. Having an ILA allows me to access unique classes at Vanderbilt including Songwriting, History of Fashion, Introduction to Archaeology, Southeast Asia Studies, and many others. I also meet weekly with peer mentors, known as “Ambassadores.” Ambassadores help me with my classes, stay organized, and get involved in Vanderbilt’s campus life opportunities.

Tell us about your internships about how they have helped you move toward your career goals.

Another important part of Next Steps is career development. We explore different career options and have internships each semester to develop our professionalism and build our resumes. During my time at Vanderbilt, I have interned with the Vanderbilt Owen School of Business, the Human Resources office at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the Vanderbilt Admissions Office, the scheduling and archiving department for Governor Bill Lee, and the Nashville District Attorney’s Office.

These internships have helped me stay motivated, explore different career options, build my office administration skills, and gain workplace independence. During my internships, I receive support from job coaches. My job coaches support me to gain greater workplace independence, meet career goals, and develop needed workplace supports. When I graduate from Vanderbilt, I am interested in working in a government office, in human resources, or as an administrative assistant for the Nashville Predators hockey team.

In one-word, how would you describe what the Americans with Disabilities Act means to you?

Inclusion.

Tell us about your speech on disability discrimination and about why you chose that topic.

I picked the speech for my Public Speaking class because my dad helped me to decide about it. I was going to write about something else. My professor liked it, too, because it was important to me. A lot of people don’t know about the hard experiences of people with disabilities. And that they should be able to experience college and get good jobs, too. In my speech, I wanted to educate my classmates about disability discrimination and things that should be done to improve it.

What discrimination issues did you teach them about?

About employment and jobs. I told them only 26 states out of 50 states have seen job gains for people who have disabilities since 2016. People who have disabilities are the largest minority group in the country and are usually dedicated, and they don’t leave jobs as often as people who don’t have disabilities.

People who have disabilities have a work ethic, and they work hard and want to be proud of their accomplishments. But sometimes their work ethics are different than what most people think.

Disabled people can be more capable and talented than some people think.

Courtney Taylor is director of VKC Communications.

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This is a monthly email of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Notables published by the Communications staff of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. Between issues of Notables, you can stay up to date on the latest Vanderbilt Kennedy Center news, information, and resources via the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Facebook page.