New organizing group launches program to connect with City Colleges

Access Living staff and consumers sitting at a rectangular table at a resource day event
As the Young Adult Employment Organizer at Access Living, Aziza Nassar knows how hard it can be for a young person with a disability to find a job. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago, earning her Bachelor’s in Molecular biology and Chemistry. Upon graduating, when looking for a job, Aziza thought her hijab, a head scarf, would be a greater barrier than her disability. With a form of muscular dystrophy, she did not realize how difficult it would be for her to get a job in a lab. According to Aziza, employers were nervous about hiring someone with a disability - They thought their work would be in jeopardy. Because of stigma against disability, they couldn’t believe that someone with a disability was qualified for the job. After sending in more than 20 job applications with no reply, Aziza took three years off. In her time off, Aziza learned the necessity of being a self advocate through her experiences. That realization led her to social justice. Now, as an organizer with Access Living, she is giving other students with disabilities the tools to self advocate once they graduate.

With Access Living, Aziza first worked with Disabled Americans Want Work Now (DAWWN ) organizing around employment issues. Soon Aziza filled the new position of Young Employment Organizer at Access Living. In that role, she works with the Foxes, a group of empowered college students with disabilities that transform public consciousness on disability rights and economic justice through self-advocacy and systems change. The Foxes main focus has been on the transition from college into meaningful, competitive employment, addressing barriers and difficulties, and building relationships between students, City of Chicago Colleges (CCC), and employers. Aziza has been working on developing relationships with CCC Disability Access Center administrators and students with disabilities to let them know that Access Living is available to them as a resource in the transition.

Consequently, Aziza and the Foxes are coordinating a lecture series that will raise awareness about disabilities at City Colleges and that will equip graduates with disabilities with resources to navigate the barriers that she faced as a job seeker. By educating, motivating, and empowering a new generation of college students with disabilities to be strong self-advocates as they transition into the workforce, students with disabilities will learn how economic power and advocacy after college advances opportunity for all. The lecture series Aziza is planning will allow her to share her story with city college students. Aziza learned that one of the biggest barriers in reaching out to college students is that many do not identify as a person with a disability. Often times, it’s more difficult to identify as a person with a disability and self advocate if the disability is hidden. A lot of the city college demographic includes non-visible disabilities such as learning disabilities. People with and without disabilities both know that it’s not easy to stick up for oneself. Aziza’s goal is to create an environment in which City College students with disabilities will feel empowered to identify and advocate as a person with a disability.

The lecture series will be a panel type discussion that includes: a recent college graduate with a disability, a college professor who specializes in disability studies, a representative from the Department of Rehabilitation Services and/or different professionals whose agencies could serve as resources for the students, and equal opportunity corporate level employers. The lecture series will launch in the Fall of 2013- Spring of 2014!

If you would like to participate in the Foxes or bring this lecture to your college or university, please call Aziza at 312-640-2120 or email her at
Aziza Nassar
Stepping Stones Coordinator