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Sitting Scots continue to protest Edinboro's changing disability care policy

Photo By: Alex Bell/The Behrend Beacon

11-13-2018

Alex Bell, News Editor

To draw attention to the school’s continued inaction on the law which ended the attendant care program, Edinboro’s Sitting Scots organized another protest on campus this Saturday. The Sitting Scots are a group of students who fight for the rights and equality of disabled individuals on campus. On the same day, Edinboro held an open house day, for students who may be coming to the university in the coming year.

“We do want to interact with prospective students and let them know this is happening...they’ve received conflicting reports about what is going to happen with the program,” Melissa Hallbauer said. Hallbauer is a member of The Sitting Scots, and also maintains the Facebook page used to communicate with the public. She also stated that, while open house days are a useful time to present their concerns to incoming students, the members of Sitting Scots are as active as able-bodied students on campus, and find it difficult to gather all of their members during the week.

The ending of the attendant care program comes as the university’s leadership experiences a major change. Edinboro’s interim president and the new president of student affairs, both of whom have been in their current offices for less than a year, have had to deal with the problems faced by the school, which has a significant reputation among disabled students. However, the most significant change comes from Pennsylvania’s Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR). Because profoundly disabled individuals will be hard pressed to find work without post-secondary education, the University had been allowed to work with the office to provide care to those students, according to Hallbauer. But the office had chosen, earlier in the year, to abandon the letter of understanding between themselves and Edinboro University, which allowed them to receive reimbursement for the services they provided to disabled individuals on campus.

As a result of the ending of this agreement, Edinboro has chosen to discontinue the specific program which its students have been accustomed to. In its place, there has been discussion of outside care providers being called in to provide assistance. Students in the program in place now do not feel that this is adequate.

“When we say fees for services, we're talking 25 grand per semester on top of tuition,” said Amy Keller, another member of the Sitting Scots. “[The program] is how we’re able to be normal college students.” If the program in place now falls through, students dependent upon it would be forced to choose between care at school and care in their home, as a majority of the students in the program are not Pennsylvania residents. The OVR’s communication with other states, and that of the school itself, have allowed students to receive care from the program at Edinboro and in their homes. This has presented a problem for students who have been sent far from their homes to attend the school. The specific program which Edinboro offers had given disabled students the ability to maintain their care and obtain a degree simultaneously.

Both Keller and Hallbauer said that the specific nature of the program changing to outside care providers would also make it more challenging for the students in The Sitting Scots. They, and several other members, agree that their caretakers help them gain a sense of independence.

“The [attendant care workers], are like parents to you. They push you, if they know you can do something, they’ll say ‘try and do that yourself’,” Hallbauer said. This has aided alumni in the past, according to Hallbauer, by giving students who have faced severe disabilities the ability to explore what they can and cannot do. This has helped disabled students get jobs, and Edinboro has historically been held in high regard in the eyes of companies looking for disabled employees.

“This program gives people the opportunity to look at an employer and say ‘I can do whatever you need’,” Hallbauer stated. “A lot of alumni have said that they would not have done as well after graduation without the safety net of the attendant care program.”

Sitting Scots members also said that the program has given disabled students a community that many disabled individuals do not get. “The sense of community here, the sense that we all have something to offer, is something that you don’t get at other colleges,” said Keller. She explained that she had been having difficulties with her wheelchair and getting around campus in the snow, and that other disabled students on campus gave her the information that she needed, which would not have been as easy to find without the community on campus.

The Sitting Scots have planned a series of events and ways to move forward, now that the attendant care program is coming to a close. Hallbauer stated that the group intends to partner with Edinboro’s Student Government Association, giving them access to campus resources. The group also plans on restarting an expo that has been done on campus in the past, which would not only show incoming students the type of devices that disabled students have access to, but would also give able-bodied students the experience of members of The Sitting Scots.

“It’s just challenges that disabled students face every day, and putting able-bodied students in those situations and saying “how would you react?” Hallbauer stated. They hope that students will be able to gain a greater insight into the life of disabled students and how Edinboro has influenced their lives.