Disability activist Samantha Norman honored with Lee Henson Access Mizzou Award

MU announced the winners of the Lee Henson Access Mizzou Award on Sept. 28. This award honors members of the MU community who promote the accessibility and inclusivity of students with disabilities.

When senior Samantha Norman joined her sorority, Kappa Delta, as a freshman, she had no idea it would open the door to a world of advocacy.

Recently, Norman has received university-wide recognition for her work. She won the Lee Henson Mizzou Access Award which honors people who “demonstrate and model a commitment over time to improving the inclusion of people with disabilities or the accessibility of Mizzou’s campus and programs.”

As a freshman, she tried to find ways to get involved on campus.

“I was looking for somewhere to find a community of people and to find something to join. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to fit in,” Norman said.

She joined the Mizzou Disability Coalition, an organization that was founded by members of her sorority.

When she first joined, the organization was very small. Norman said it’s “cool” to see how much the organization has grown since then.

Norman now serves as the vice president of public relations for the organization. She said she had a specific vision for how she wanted the organization to grow when she first took the position.

In this role, she runs the social media accounts and is in charge of messaging and public relations. These responsibilities are right in her wheelhouse as a strategic communications major in the Missouri School of Journalism.

She has been in her current role for two years. Since filling it, the organization’s follower count has tripled.

“It’s cool to see how much of an impact social media and PR can have on the amount of people who see a message or are concerned about an issue,” Norman said.

Because of the close ties between her sorority and the coalition, the organization hopes to promote the inclusivity of people with disabilities within Greek life. Many of the older houses are not ADA compliant, and the coalition attempts to draw attention to that, Norman said.

Overall, the organization’s goal is to “educate as many students as we can and get our messages out to as many people as we can,” Norman said.

The Disability Coalition’s main events of the year are a student disability walk and an admin disability walk. At each one, attendees tour campus and discuss places that are accessible and inaccessible for people with disabilities.

Though COVID-19 has pushed all events online, the virtual Student Accessibility Walk was still successful. Instead of traveling around campus in-person, members of the organization showed videos over Zoom and the discussion was held virtually.

“I think more people were inclined to log on to learn about something rather than leaving their dorm or their apartment,” Norman said.

Norman said the admin accessibility walks gives them an opportunity to make plans with administrators directly.

“Being face to face with the officials is really beneficial because they put a face to the issue and they see that all these students really care about this,” she said.

Coming from a small town, Norman was never properly educated on disability culture or advocacy work. Norman has extended family members with disabilities, so she became invested in the work as she learned more about it.

Once she became involved with the coalition, she found her passion for the issue.

“This is actually an area that has so much important information and so much work to be done,” Norman said. “By continuing to go, I found my passion in it.”

Sophia Martino, the president of the Mizzou Disability Coalition, said Norman’s passion is an asset to the organization.

“She is very passionate about what she does for our organization and … no one can ask for anything more,” Martino said. “She puts her whole heart into it and it means a lot to everyone who is involved.”

Norman’s passion comes from being able to combine two of her biggest interests.

“It’s been awesome to be able to do all the things that I want to do in my career but use that to spread awareness for a cause that definitely needs to be heard on Mizzou’s campus,” she said.

Edited by Joy Mazur | jmazur@themaneater.com

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