By Scott Bigelow
Young and DSO officers Maranda McQuage and Jessica Puckett
During his freshman year, Daniel Young tried to join a club that did not exist. So, he rolled up his sleeves and started a new chapter of the Disabled Student Organization (DSO) at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
As the founder of UNCP's Disabled Student Organization and its secretary, the sophomore from Dunn, N.C., is busy planning fundraisers, a leadership retreat and membership recruitment. Starting the club was a lot of work, but Young said the new student organization is here to stay.
DSO made its mark on campus this spring by winning the Homecoming spirit contest for the best float in the parade. It was a coming out party for the new club.
"From just a group of people, we have become a real club," Young said. "I've worked my tail off because this organization means a lot to me. I'm proud of what we've done."
DSO's mission is to advocate for the disabled on campus and off. And, it is a support group for its members like Daniel.
A strapping 6-foot 3,Young is legally blind and has Tourette's syndrome. He described his high school experience as difficult, sometimes troubled.
At UNCP, Young turned himself around, even his grades. Now a "B" student, he is majoring in psychology with plans for graduate school and a career in counseling.
"Everybody's different, and I am different," he said. "In high school, no one understood my problems or wanted to."
"In college, the people are more mature and more understanding about disabilities," Young said. "Everybody seems to like me here."
Young said there is considerable support available for disabled students. He credits UNCP's Office of Disability Support Services (DSS) as instrumental in his turnaround. DSS provided counseling and assistive technology to help overcome his vision impairment.
Young uses advanced computer software to enlarge text and to provide audio versions of text. Young said a small university setting is beneficial.
"I met (DSS Director) Mary Helen Walker during my campus visit, and that's why I chose UNCP," Young said. "The classes are small, and there is one-on-one consultation with professors."
With support from DSS and the new Disabled Student Organization, Young found a place to make his mark and new friends.
"Meeting new people and making friends is one of the benefits of the club," he said. "I'm pretty good at that, so I am going to be publicity chairman next year."
Club Treasurer Jessica Puckett said fun is an important part of the club but not the only thing.
"A lot of people think the disabled don't have fun, but we have a lot of fun in this club," Puckett said. "It's a big support group. These people are helping me get through college."
Puckett said networking with club members about issues from health care to financial aid was instrumental in her success in college.
"One of the things I learned talking with other members of the club is how to finance my college education," Puckett said. "I would not be here if it were not for this club."
DSO President-elect Maranda McQuage said the club is a personal growth experience and more.
"We're a very tight family, and we've all grown a lot," McQuage said. "We are hoping to become a catalyst for larger discussions."
The club embraces a larger and very ambitious mission, Young said.
"We are about advocacy for the disabled," he said. "I'd like for us to get out into the community and into the schools. I'd like to talk to young disabled students and show them they can make it too, like we have."
The club is also working on its mission to advocate for the disabled on campus.
"We're working to make the environment - the campus - accessible," Young said. "Stairs are a real problem for me if they are not marked."
Fundraising and membership recruitment are also important to the club, which has 17 members out of a disabled student population of approximately 500 at UNCP. Young is eager to expand membership, but he understands why some students are reluctant to join.
"I've been putting up flyers everywhere, and we've got a new web site (www.uncp.edu/dss/links/dso)," he said. "People know I'm disabled, but a lot of people do not like to admit their disability publicly."
Membership in DSO is open to all students, not just the disabled. Young is optimistic about the future of the Disabled Student Organization.
"We've done quite a bit in a short time," he said. "It's a great club that has great promise."
Club advisor and DSS Director Mary Helen Walker believes the club plays an important role on campus, and she said Young played an important role in founding the club.
"Daniel has been great for our program, and I'm proud of him," Walker said. "The club is very active. Right now, they are planning a bake sale, a new member induction and a leadership retreat at Carowinds."
For more information about Disability Support Services at UNCP, or about the Zeta Chapter of the national service fraternity Delta Sigma Omicron (Disabled Student Organization), please contact DSS at 910.521.6695, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.