November 11, 2019

Alison Grimes: Access for All

Associate Director of Disability Resources Alison Grimes.

Associate Director of Disability Resources Alison Grimes.

Associate Director of Disability Resources Alison Grimes wears many hats. She’s a disability content specialist, educator, motivator, interpreter, sounding board, cheerleader, trainer and more. It’s what you’d expect, given that Mary Washington has the highest population – 11 percent – of students who self-disclose a disability, when compared to other Virginia state universities.

After earning a master’s of education degree from UMW in 2011, Grimes thought she’d become a teacher. But a position in counseling services changed her mind, and six years ago, she landed a job in the Office of Disability Resources (ODR) at her alma mater.

“I felt that I could make a bigger impact and support a community that helped me grow into the passionate professional I am now,” said Grimes, whose days are spent meeting with students, navigating committees, reviewing documentation and working with faculty and staff. To Grimes, the willingness to learn and take on additional roles and responsibilities is necessary toward enacting change in a student’s life.

Diagnosed with type one diabetes as a child, she uses her personal experiences to encourage students to communicate their needs, understand their strengths and access the campus community so they can make their own mark. Despite her chronic illness, Grimes says the onus is on her to push herself to participate in life and be there for her students.

“I believe actions speak louder than words,” she said. “If I’m going to ask students to show up, I should as well.”

The motivation appears to be working. Grimes’ desk is decorated with thank you cards from students she’s helped, reminding her on difficult days just how much she loves her job.

 

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The students, by far. I love seeing them grow and learn to advocate on their own behalf. I appreciate how they bring a level of understanding of access to the different areas in which they participate across campus and the support they give one another.

Q: The most challenging?
A: Finding ways to support students, as it’s never a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about learning what each person needs and helping based on that information.

Q: October is dedicated to celebrating disability inclusion. Why is that important?
A: Individuals with disabilities constitute the largest and most diverse minority group, so it’s critical that we educate our community. Promoting disability awareness helps those with different needs be heard and understood, and encourages empowerment and advocacy across campus.

Q: Is ODR introducing any new initiatives?
A: Our new mission is Access for All. We’re working to guide the UMW community into focusing on accessibility first. For example, ODR has partnered with Diversity and Inclusion on addressing the need for accessible furniture on campus. We’re also offering more training opportunities for our campus partners. In spring 2020, ODR will launch the Keep CALM campaign to assist faculty with choosing accessible learning materials. More information will be shared in the coming months.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill