A-Seat-at-the-Table Disability in Focus BlogBy Jesse Schwartzman

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to make a change so badly but you felt that nothing could be done? I have been there. I was in my junior year of college and I was literally getting sick from the horrible food served on campus. I was not the only one, most of my friends were in the same boat. Our complaints were the same; the toast from the grilled cheese was stale, the frozen pizza was still frozen, and the meatloaf did not taste like meatloaf. The chicken was not you get the point.

If there was only something that could be done… There was actually something that could be done. I was in student government at the time and all I needed was a reason to start a new committee. I spoke to a few of my fellow legislators and we got the approval from the executive board to start the committee. My friends and I got what we wanted but we did not have a plan. We also did not expect the added work on our shoulders with a full caseload of classes. We took some time and made a plan.

Once we had a plan, we started crossing off items to tackle which included what the food complaints were, a survey so others could list their complaints in an efficient manner and how we were going to report this to the university so changes could finally be made.

After a month or so the surveys were coming in hot as I always hoped the pizza in the dining hall would be. We then drafted a report and shared it with the university and the school newspaper. After a few attempts, we finally got a meeting with the head chef of the food vendor service at the university. He was very nice and attentive to our wants and needs even though we routinely criticized his food. He mentioned that the food contract with the university was over in two years and it was up to the university to change vendors or keep them on with a better package which included fast food companies coming on campus. We then met with the university and strongly advocated for better food options on campus the sooner, the better! The university had our report and all the surveys. They needed to act, we were a commuter school and almost everyone had a car. The university understood that the students had options.  When the contract was over, better food options came on campus but by that time I had graduated. I could not enjoy the fruits of my labor, but it was worth it because no one deserved to get that low-quality food.

As this relates to self-advocacy, sometimes you get what you want and need but be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. If you do not prepare for the best-case scenario, you could lose out on the opportunity to fully embrace the change you want to see. When you get that seat at the table, make sure you have something meaningful to say and save room for the rest of us!

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Disability in Focus