Villanovans Recognized for Contribution to Disability Awareness Advocacy

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Stephen McWilliams (top, left) and Gregory Hannah (top, second from left) are presented with their disability awareness advocacy award at Citizens Bank Park. Pictured in the front row are Villanova students Frank Kineavy and Nick Gaynor. Photo courtesy of Heddy Bergsman and the Philadelphia Phillies.

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Stephen McWilliams and Gregory Hannah of the Office of Disability Services at Villanova University have been honored with the First Financial Group (FFG) Special Needs Awareness Award for their contribution to disability awareness advocacy. The award – which recognizes an individual, company, or organization for their work in promoting awareness and accommodations for individuals with disabilities – was presented on Disability Awareness Night at Citizens Bank Park Wednesday, May 9, prior to the Philadelphia Phillies’ game against the New York Mets.

 “We are very fortunate to work with a great population of students at Villanova and we’re happy to see the progress that’s been made in disability awareness on campus and in the community,” said Stephen McWilliams, Director of Disability Services at Villanova University. “I am very honored that we have been selected to receive this award.”

Sponsored by FFG, Disability Awareness Night aims to expand awareness of people with disabilities across America. The event highlights the perseverance and dedication of the healthcare professionals, educators and other caregivers of people with disabilities. FFG has invited 533 schools, organizations, families, and individuals with disabilities to share in this year’s event.

“As a parent of a special needs young adult that would have loved a college experience, and an advisor who dedicates his practice to working with families that have children with special needs, I was deeply touched that Villanova has such an extensive program through its disability services office,” said Bruce H. Sham, CLF, Agency Vice President of Sales, First Financial Group. “I wanted to give this appropriate recognition in a setting that is truly a once in a lifetime experience.”

Villanova’s Office of Disability Services provides support services to students with disabilities and ensures that qualified students with disabilities have access to educational opportunities at the University by eliminating physical and educational barriers. In addition to the support McWilliams and Hannah provide to students with disabilities at Villanova, they have also played a key role in disability awareness advocacy.

“Working alongside Stephen McWilliams to provide our students with physical disabilities the chance to successfully navigate through their college career, grow academically as well as socially change the way people see ability is something we are proud of,” said Gregory Hannah, advisor to students with disabilities at Villanova, as well as the staff  advisor for the student organization LEVEL. “To be recognized with the FFG special needs awareness award is a great honor.”

In 2010, students in Villanova’s Center for Social Justice Film produced a documentary about the journey of two students with cerebral palsy, Coming Off the DL, which aims to change the way people see ability. McWilliams was one of the instructors for that social justice film class. Now, two years later, he and others involved in the making of that documentary are working with United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) to take the film to schools and UCP affiliates around the country. To date, Coming Off the DL has been screened and discussed at more than 100 schools, creating important opportunities to talk about disability issues with students.

This past year, an organization called LEVEL was founded by Villanova student Ariana Meltzer-Bruhn, to “LEVEL” the playing field for students of differing abilities. The Office for Disability Services plays an advisory role with the organization and its members. Students involved in the University’s Service Learning Community (SLC) can select LEVEL as part of their SLC experience. Those students who choose LEVEL are partnered with a student challenged with physical, learning or other differences, and assist the students both in achieving their academic potential and becoming involved in the Villanova community and campus life.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's five colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.