The Deerfield Academy Disabilities Alliance, more commonly known as the DADA, was established last year but is growing quickly in prominence.
Leader of the alliance Izzy Hamlen ’20 said: “There wasn’t a proper student support group for students with disabilities, visible and invisible before this alliance.”
Last year, the leaders of the DADA had lunch with Dr. Oluwaferanmi Okanlami ’03, a physically disabled Deerfield alumnus, in order to hear his perspective.
Hamlen said, “He told us the one entrance into the dining hall that day was blocked, and it was the only handicap entrance. It just shows how unaware Deerfield is about abilities.”
She added that she hopes the alliance can improve Deerfield’s understanding about disabilities.
The alliance was also responsible for modifying the ‘Welcome’ stickers put on each student’s door. It spoke to the Student Life Office and was able to include the phrase “Deerfield welcomes…all abilities” this year.
Hamlen said, “I hope that the stickers will help students understand that they don’t have to go through something like this alone.”
The DADA also started doing Friday Doughnuts at the end of each month in the Health Center for students who are picking up medication.
In addition, it worked with academic faculty to change the current location for testing study hall, which is in the basement of the library, and can be noisy and distracting. The location is set to change over winter term.
The alliance also hopes to bring puppies to campus later in the year. Hamlen said, “We’re trying to do puppy therapy before exams because I think exams are…really tough for everyone but especially for kids who don’t do well under stress or have to have accommodations.”
Despite their successes, both Hamlen and Luther expressed the hope that the DADA will grow bigger.
Luther said, “The alliance is still pretty new and has much room to grow. However, I see that it has still made an impact on the community by raising awareness.’’
Hamlen added, “We’re still in that building stage so we need to get the ball rolling and hopefully in a couple years it’ll be a much bigger group.”
Above all, the alliance has created a support system for students with disabilities and their allies. Luther said that, with the club, she “gained a safe place to talk about and resolve issues and stereotypes that can arise in the world of disabilities.”
The school administration has also tried to provide support for the alliance. Ms. Koyama, Director of Academic Support, discussed the various academic support systems available on campus.
She said, “If students, and by that I mean any student, feel they need assistance succeeding in their classes for any reason, they should reach out to their teachers, advisor and/or anyone in the Office of the Academic Dean.”
She added that students can also meet with peer tutors or a learning specialist in order to adjust to any academic needs or complications.
Hamlen said that the club is working to destigmatize different learning abilities. “I really hope that, in a few years…when [I] visit, the alliance will be a lot bigger and learning disabilities will be more normalized,” she said.