Hosting a panel of students with disabilities is a great way to help faculty, staff, or other stakeholders learn more about the issues that students with disabilities face in education. These panels can be held as part of a larger workshop on disability, as a standalone meeting, or as a part of a regularly-held departmental meeting.
Be sure to include students with a variety of disabilities, including both apparent and invisible disabilities on the panel. Recruiting three to five participants is enough for diversity among panelists yet time for each panelist to participate. On a postsecondary campus, you might locate panelists by working with the disability services office.
Ask panelists what accommodations they may need to participate, for example, a meeting space that is accessible to him/her or a sign language interpreter. Many students will not need accommodations. Contact your disability services office if you have questions about how to provide or arrange accommodations.
Before the event, prepare a list of questions. Share the questions and information about the audience with your panelists so that they can prepare ahead of time. This will allow them to have more thorough and well thought out responses and can help them feel more confident. Be sensitive to the fact that panelists may not want to share certain information. Let panelists know ahead of time that they do not need to answer every question.
Be sure that the panelist facilitator and panel members use a microphone. Begin the event by asking the audience to consider the discussion confidential and to think of questions they would like to ask. Have panelists introduce themselves, including information about their major, their career goals, and other relevant information. Follow this with your questions invite questions from the audience. Arrange for members of the audience to have access to a microphone or repeat questions into the facilitator microphone before panelists answer them.
Questions you might ask panelists to address at a postsecondary institution include:
- What challenges have you faced as a student with a disability?
- How can faculty support you as a student with a disability?
- What access issues have you faced in postsecondary education?
- What types of accommodations do you receive? Which of these have you found most helpful?
- How do you communicate with faculty about your needs? How would you like faculty members to communicate with you about your accommodations?
- Do you work or have you had internships? Are your accommodations different in the work setting than in school?
- Tell me about a positive experience with faculty when discussing an accommodation.
- Tell me about a time that a faculty member was not helpful in their approach to your disability of accommodation needs.
- What advice would you give a faculty member for working with a student with a disability like yours?
- What are your experiences regarding team work in your classes?
- Do you disclose your disability in employment settings? If so, how?
Be sure that each panelist gets adequate time to speak. You may choose to address questions specifically to panelists who tend not to volunteer to speak up. Redirect the conversation as needed. At the end of the event, thank your panelists for sharing their experiences and perspectives.
Hosting a panel of students with disabilities is a promising practice in raising awareness of disability issues as these panel discussions allow faculty, staff, and other stakeholders the opportunity to interact with students with disabilities and learn more about their experiences.