COVID 19 & Higher Education Advocacy Program

About Us

The AAPD COVID-19 & Higher Education Advocacy program exists to address the education system’s deepest rooted problems in ensuring access to education for d/Deaf students, students with disabilities, mental illness and chronic illness.

The program was made possible by a Ford Foundation grant in 2022 to address long-standing issues in access to education for students with disabilities which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two young woman with mask speak in sign language

Statement on COVID-19 Pandemic

Addressing COVID-19’s New Normal

When the pandemic began, campuses started providing accommodations that were much needed by the disabled college students and faculty. With many universities returning back to an in-person environment, without an option of a hybrid, HyFlex, or remote environment, people with disabilities are losing access to their education. In addition, 1 in 13 adults in the US have “long COVID”, creating a new generation of people with disabilities who face barriers in access. As of 2023, our program intends to focus on issues impacting the higher education disabled community that were created or made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Focusing on Higher Education

For our inaugural years our primary focus will be on addressing issues impacting disabled students and staff within higher education. Our hope is that as we grow, we will be able to branch out to focus on issues impacting disabled people throughout our systems. We recognize that there is a great deal of overlap in the issues disabled people face within all education spaces. We also understand that many barriers to higher education access begin well before a student enters college.

Meet the Team
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Ashley Cowan D’Ambrosio

Program Manager

Ashley Cowan D’Ambrosio (she/her) is a Mad/Mentally Ill, Chronically Ill, Queer, Disabled activist, educator and entrepreneur. She currently serves as the Education Program Manager, building out AAPD’s advocacy program to ensure access to education for people with disabilities across the nation.
Ashley worked for years as a disability activist, researching the systems and incentives structures which create inequities in access to society for disabled people, focusing primarily on access to higher education.

As its Director (2017-19), Ashley worked during her undergraduate program to scale the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW) Student Disability Commission (SDC) into a “juggernaut of advocacy”. The SDC was developed to promote the transfer of institutional knowledge between generations of advocates and was responsible for the founding of the ASUW Office of Inclusive Design; a new program designed to increase the utilization of inclusive design within student life.

Shortly after graduation, she partnered with other members of the disability community to found Crip Riot, a disabled-owned and led company committed to bringing expressions of disability pride to the world, through unapologetic clothing, media, education and activism. She also has experience building a Human Resources department from the ground up and working as an HR Consultant to support organizations in building scalable solutions to systemic challenges with accessibility, equity and growth.

Ashley is a current Affiliate of the Disability Studies Program at the University of Washington (UW) and provides various guest lectures in the UW College of Education and Disability Studies program. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Disability Studies from the University of Washington with minors in Education and Diversity. She is a current part-time graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in Disability Studies with The City University of New York (CUNY) and is expected to graduate in 2024.

Her research interests center around incorporating theories of “Crip Spacetime” into higher education instructional design (Universal/Inclusive Design), through distance learning integration, self-paced, asynchronous instruction, etc. It is her experience as a non-traditional, first-gen, chronically-ill, mad/mentally-ill high school-dropout, which has motivated a desire to explore the narratives and contexts of disabled students who have been criminalized, pathologized, and/or traumatized as part of their educational journey.


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