The Disabled Students' Network: creating an accessible space for all

Luca Swinford ‘22 sits in the Shapiro Students Center next to Zoe Pringle '22, and a sign for their club, the Disabled Students' Network.
Courtesy Photo

Luca Swinford '22 (l) and Zoe Pringle '22 (r) represent the Disabled Students' Network at a campus activity fair in the Shapiro Student Center.

Since its founding in April 2021, the Disabled Students’ Network has provided a community for all disabled students on campus. At the same time, members have worked to educate the whole community on disabilities and ableism.

“Our goal is to be a robust support system for disabled students, where we can really build that community that we might not have otherwise.” says co-founder Luca Swinford ‘22.

The creation of the group was on Luca’s mind ever since taking HSSP (Health, Science, Society and Policy) 128A: Disability Policy with fellow co-founder Zoe Pringle ‘22. In this class, taught by professor Monika Mitra, the Nancy Lurie Marks Associate Professor of Disability Policy and director of the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, they saw there was not an organized community of disabled students on campus, and were inspired to create their own. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the shift to remote learning in March 2020, these plans were put on hold. However, Luca and Zoe became convinced that if there was any time to create a club centered around community, it was now.

As Zoe recalled, “We just really felt like there wasn't any way for students to connect with each other or even find each other. This is just a chill space where you don't have to necessarily come in and be super informed about anything political or social necessarily.”

Giving those with disabilities a community here on campus, as well as a platform for their voices to be heard is the goal of the Disabled Students’ Network. They also seek to educate those who are not disabled, and hope to get them involved in activism and advocacy as well, because ableism is everywhere.

Incorporating social justice values into the framework of their club was one of the most important steps for both Zoe and Luca. Their values were inspired by members of a disability activism group called Sins Invalid, which recognizes and celebrates the diversity within the disabled community. Their values seek to create a sense of community for anyone who is disabled, as many disability communities are dominated by white, physically-disabled people, which can create a sense of exclusion for those who aren’t white, cisgendered, heterosexual, or those whose disabilities are not phyiscal.

Another major value in the Disabled Students’ Network is the emphasis on advocacy. It is common in mainstream media to hear discussions of activism, but how often are disabled people included in those discussions? A struggle for those with disabilities is the feeling of not having their voices heard. Zoe noted “Hearing all these different things be mentioned and accounted for and looking for ways to support marginalized communities and never hearing disability mentioned, it's kind of mind blowing, given that the disability community is one of the largest marginalized populations in the world.”

“We hope that the existence of our club will push people to examine those things in their own lives because ableism impacts everyone's life, regardless of disability status,” Luca said.

Their message to the Brandeis community? “Disability is worth space at Brandeis. Disability is worth recognition. And it's something to be proud of. And so for disabled students, for people who are unsure, we want them to know that there's a space for you here. And there's people that really care about you and are rooting for you. And for non-disabled people, the hope is really to get involved in some advocacy, maybe learn a little bit about what ableism might be,” Luca said.

On March 18 from 2 to 3:30 p.m, The Disabled Students’ Network is holding a panel discussing disability and public health on Zoom. The Brandeis community is invited to register for the event.

“This is really an extension of conversations in the disability community and in disability circles about being ignored in the COVID-19 pandemic response,” Luca explained. “We took it upon ourselves to point out that this is kind of reflecting an attitude towards disability that's been prevalent in public health for a long time. And so how do we move forward knowing that, and seeing these new forms of ableism appear in this COVID pandemic response.”

This panel is featuring Mitra, and Stephen Gulley, lecturer in HSSP and a health and disability researcher. This panel will shed some light on recent Covid-19 policies and its effects on the disabled community, as well as the current relationship between public health and disability.

The planners hope the event sends a message that public health needs to be inclusive to everyone. Both the disabled community and the non-disabled community need to come together to stand against ableism.

“Include disability in public health discussions. Include us in your collection of statistical information and demographic information. Include us in your arrangements and awareness and procedures. Include us when you're thinking about who might be the most impacted by a virus. And really include us in your public health analysis,” Luca said.

The Lurie Institute for Disability Policy does a lot of work fighting for the inclusion of disabilities in health policies and beyond. Especially now, during this pandemic, it has an opportunity to look at the current policies being implemented and look at how there is a tendency to forget about those with disabilities in these policies.

If anyone is looking to get more involved either with the Disabled Students’ Network or disability activism, or just learn more about disability and disability policies in general, Zoe and Luca urge anyone to attend one of the weekly meetings held by the DSN. Community meetings are held on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. in Heller G55 or on Zoom, and advocacy meetings are held every other Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom. These two meetings uphold the two major values of the DSN, and they are kept separate so those who are just looking for a community can attend the more light-hearted community meetings, and those looking for information or activism can attend the more serious advocacy meetings. Zoe and Luca also highly recommend taking any disability course offered at Brandeis, especially “Sociology of Disability” with Professor Gulley and “Disability Policy” with Professor Mitra.

For more information on how to get involved with the Disabled Students’ Network on campus feel free to reach out to Zoe or Luca at their emails: or

Or reach out on social media through their instagram: @DSNBrandeis
Or Facebook: Disabled Students’ Network Brandeis

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