Johna Wright, a junior at Mercer University and visually impaired, is changing the campus climate for our students with disabilities and is lobbying for disability rights throughout the nation. Mercer has always been a welcoming and inclusive institution, but through Johna's advocacy and program development, we now are an empowering, pro-active institution. In her freshman year, Johna founded "ABLE Mercer," a peer mentoring program that helps first-year students with disabilities to transition to residential campus life. Her programming focuses not only on giving students with disabilities self-advocacy and independent living skills but also on changing the low expectations and disempowering attitudes of able-bodied toward those who have disabilities. As the only student Board member of the National Federation of the Blind and an officer in the National Association of Blind Students, Johna carries her message into a national arena. She has lobbied Congressional members regarding legislation and created social media and outreach networking for these organizations so that her voice and the voices of others are amplified and heard. A Mercer Service Scholar, Johna is conducting research on the efficacy of her curriculum and hopes to make the program available to other institutions of higher education in the future.
As someone with a visual impairment, I have grown up learning how to advocate for myself in order to obtain equal access in a society that systemically discriminates against, and even dehumanizes, me. As a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, I have been able to truly find my voice as an advocate and acquire the skills necessary to spark change on a local, national, and international level. My experiences lobbying for the rights of people with disabilities to Congress, learning about legislation that affects the disabled community in South Africa through a volunteer trip, and mentoring several bright, young blind students at a Braille enrichment and literacy camp equipped me with the tools needed to pilot my own program for first-year college students with disabilities at my home institution. This peer-mentoring program, ABLE Mercer, has positively impacted many students with disabilities during its inaugural year through intensive and interactive instruction in areas such as self-advocacy, independent living skills, and social skills. ABLE Mercer is the first program of its kind, and I am working diligently to add value to the project each year and make it into a sustainable program that can be adopted by universities worldwide.