Attending college can be difficult and overwhelming for any student. For someone living with a disability, the experience can be especially more challenging in many ways: socially, emotionally, logistically, and more. University of Michigan senior Vincent Pinti — who is living with SMA — is all too familiar with struggles of attending a large institution where he feels alone, unseen, and unsupported.
“It seems at a first glance, a naked-eye view, there are not many people here that look like me, that share my lived experience, that empathize with the adversity that I experience,” he told The University Record, the school’s news column. “As a result, at times, it can feel very lonely, and it becomes growingly challenging to be able to teach and share the life I was given with the world.”
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Shortly after beginning his studies, Pinti decided to use his desire for inclusion and community as fuel for on-campus advocacy. His efforts recently earned him the James T. Neubacher Award for fostering a more equitable community at the university and bringing disability advocacy to the forefront of student government.
“It is all of our responsibilities to make sure every student feels welcome,” Pinti told The University Record.
According to the James T. Neubacher Award website, the University of Michigan presents the award each year to a student, alumnus, faculty member, or staff member for significant achievements in:
Pinti’s most recent work has been focused on increasing access to assistive care for students with disabilities. A nationwide shortage of home health aides and personal assistants has left many without the support they need.
A member of the university’s Central Student Government, Pinti sponsored a resolution — which ultimately passed — to create a scholarship for students working as personal care assistants. The scholarship program both connects students with disabilities with much-needed caregivers and provides hands-on experience to students looking to enter health care and related fields.
Pinti has also called on university administrators to create a personal assistant employment database in hopes of easing the burden on students with disabilities — who often carry the responsibility of recruiting personal assistants and health aides.
“People with disabilities have such little control over their destinies — who they can marry, where they can work, how much income they can have, where they can live,” Pinti told The University Record. “We are in the 21st century. There is no legitimate reason that these barriers still exist, so I want to be a catalyst for their erosion.”
Pinti shared his plans to continue his disability advocacy work after graduating. Currently, he is setting his sights on attending law school. He hopes to become a legal advocate and a proponent for the reinterpretation of the law to better support people with all kinds of disabilities.
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