Readers of The Arc’s blog might remember Eliza Schaaf, the college student with Down syndrome who was removed from her art class at Southern Oregon University just a few hours shy of completion last year because school officials determined that she did not meet academic standards for participating.
Eliza, her family, fellow students and others in the community petitioned the school to allow her to finish the course, but ultimately they declined. Eliza’s family started a blog for her detailing her experiences and allowing others to express support for her. Throughout the spring and summer of 2011, Eliza asked the school to address the issue of her exclusion and garnered support in the form of a petition signed by all of her classmates and a resolution passed by the school’s Student Senate. Although the school eventually did revise some of their policies, they would not respond to Eliza directly.
Although Eliza was disappointed by the outcome of that situation, she has moved on to bigger and better things! Students from Chapman University filmed a documentary about Eliza’s experiences. The film, called “Hold My Hand,” is currently screening at film festivals across the country and will be aired on Southern California Public Television. And, now Eliza is on a speaking tour advocating for inclusion at colleges and universities. In addition to being invited to participate on the keynote panel at the State of the Art Conference on Postsecondary Education and Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities at George Mason University in Virginia, she has conducted workshops with SOU and Chapman University Students and it taking her “Why Not Me?” presentation to a variety of conferences in hopes of creating change in the way postsecondary educational institutions work to include students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.