‘I am Not a Disability.’ Eliza’s Story

Eliza Schaaf Artwork image

Eliza Schaaf works on one of her projects.

Every student wants to learn. Every artist wants to create. Every person wants an opportunity to be the best they can be. The administration at Southern Oregon University have denied Eliza Schaaf all three.

Eliza graduated high school this year, loves expressing her creativity and decided to take that to the next level in college by enrolling in an art course called Introduction to Ceramics.

“I have always loved learning and I like working with clay,” Eliza says. “I just wanted to take a course and learn the basics of pottery with other college students my age.”

However, university officials have shut her down. Just seven classes short of completing the requirements for the entire course, Eliza was removed from class. University administrators told Eliza:

“At this time, Southern Oregon University does not offer a program specifically designed to provide specialized learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. We have determined that even with the support of the accommodation(s) available at the post-secondary level, you are currently not otherwise qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate in this course.”

Read the rest of the letter.

Eliza has Down syndrome, and had attended previous classes with the help of a personal assistant. Eliza’s art projects were progressing nicely (see the photos for proof!), and now all she wants to do is finish them.

In her words: “I have never thought of myself as being disabled. I am not a disability. I am a person who loves to learn.”

You’re totally missing the point. That’s what The Arc would like to say to the administration at Southern Oregon University.

It’s not just about what she might reasonably be expected to learn. It’s not just about how much she “gets” out of what’s going on. It’s not just about academic progress. It’s about allowing her to participate in the college experience to the best of her ability, alongside classmates who support her.

What Can You Do?

Plenty.

  • Visit Eliza’s blog, and read her story.
  • Sign the petition in support of her continuing class.
  • Spread the word via social media. Share this post with your Facebook friends.
  • Tweet about it using the hash tag: #4eliza
  • Make a donation to The Arc, so we can help Eliza, and cases like hers, directly.