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After four years of planning, Duke Disability Cultural Center to open this semester

After nearly four years of anticipation, the Duke Disability Cultural Center will open its doors later this semester if COVID-19 conditions at Duke permit. 

The center, which will be located in Room 033 of the Bryan Center, will offer resources open to anyone who may benefit from them, including meeting spaces for disability-related organizations, a study room and a disability studies library. The center will also host social events throughout the year.

Members of the Duke Disability Alliance began developing plans for the Center in 2017, wrote senior Maddie Fowler, DDA’s former co-president and a current executive board member, in an email. The planning process involved gathering input from friends, drawing up extensive proposals and searching for possible locations.

When this student-centered space officially begins operations, Duke will become one of just nine universities across the country to feature a disability cultural center, Fowler wrote.

“The idea for the Cultural Center was born with our former president and Duke alumnus Jay Pande [Trinity ‘20], who presented the idea at a general body meeting in fall 2017,” she wrote 

“I remember it well because it was one of my very first [general body meetings] with DDA and everyone was so excited about it. We were first able to check out our new temporary space in person last October 2020, but we are hoping to be open on a limited basis starting later this semester, spring 2021,” she continued.

After DDA members were able to secure the Bryan Center room, they needed to purchase furniture and make renovations, including finding appropriate options for natural lighting and adaptive infrastructure. Delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and erratic communication between the DDA and Duke administration prolonged the operation, Fowler wrote, but did not halt the efforts of DDA members. 

“It has definitely been a team effort, with input from many DDA members, Duke admin, disability community members, and allies from across Duke,” Fowler wrote. “We have also learned so much and been empowered through our connections and partnerships with other universities’ disability cultural centers and disability activists.”

The center's opening is contingent on Duke's COVID-19 guidelines, DDA President Simran Prakash, who is also photography editor for The Chronicle, wrote in a message. 

While providing resources is an important goal of the Disability Cultural Center, the DDA also wanted to make it the hub of a supportive community for anyone at Duke affected by a disability. 

In Fowler’s words, the purpose of the Center is to show that disabilities are experienced every day, not on an on-and-off basis—they influence a person’s culture, experiences and overall identity. These ideas are frequently discussed during the DDA’s virtual general body meetings, which occur every other Saturday, Fowler wrote. 

She also encouraged anyone who thinks they could benefit from the Center to reach out to DAA to learn more. 

“The more disabled and allied voices we have in our organization, the stronger we can be as a community at Duke,” Fowler wrote.

Editor's note: This article was updated to clarify that the center's opening depends on Duke's COVID-19 rules. 

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