The Office of Disability Services is a relatively recent development on the Villanova campus. Prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, there were no defined services for students living with disabilities. As a reaction to the passage of this legislation, the University President, Father Edmund Dobbin, O.S.A. asked Sister Therese Wenzel to act as the advisor to students living with disabilities. Therese was a warm and loving Villanova employee, who served the disabled community with distinction until she was diagnosed with ALS in 1993. Sadly, Therese passed away in 1994 after working at Villanova for over15 years.
After Therese’s death, Father Dobbin asked Steve McWilliams to supervise accommodations for the disabled students. Steve, along with Ms. Patti Rich, worked together to form an official Office for Disability Services. Ms. Rich was a passionate, caring advisor to the disabled students, as well as coordinating the Project Sunshine program. Ms. Rich left the University in 1997 to pursue post-graduate studies. Steve McWilliams assumed the role of Advisor to Student with Disabilities, in addition to his role as Advisor to International Students.
In 2009, the office took a major step forward with the hiring of Greg Hannah. Greg came to Villanova after working in education both at Monmouth University and Manasquan High School. Greg brought with him a wealth of experience and an energy and passion for student services. Greg made an immediate impact on the community and has worked very hard to change the culture for students living with disabilities. Greg was instrumental in the formation of LEVEL and he has initiated several programs that have improved the campus landscape for students, faculty, and staff who live with disabilities.
Prior to the formation of the student group, LEVEL, there was little to no opportunities for students living with disabilities to socialize with other Villanova students on campus. One of the most important aspects of a college experience is the interactions that a student has with fellow students and the chance to form life long friendships. For many students living with disabilities, the misperceptions of others can become an obstacle to forming relationships. An important developmental factor for a young person is their acceptance by a peer group. In a very short time, LEVEL has changed the culture of living with a disability on the Villanova campus.
Students from LEVEL provide academic support for the disabled community in the form of note taking, tutoring, and study skills. Most importantly, LEVEL has provided a socialization vehicle for students living with disabilities. From a quantitative perspective, LEVEL members have logged over 12,000 hours of community service assisting their fellow Villanova students. However, the real contribution of LEVEL has been to improve the quality of life for all of our students living with a disability. Our students no longer feel isolated and alone because of being pre-judged by their disability. LEVEL has succeeded in making the Villanova community more inclusive and just. I am grateful to Ariana Meltzer-Braun and all of the wonderful students who have stepped forward and have made LEVEL the tremendous organization that it has become.
written by Stephen McWilliams