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Beacon College President George J. Hagerty stands with signatories of
the new Global University Disability & Inclusion Network.
Photo credit: Steve Muller

PARIS — Beacon College, the first accredited baccalaureate school to educate primarily students who learn differently, this month was party to a historic global accord signed in France by more than 100 disability advocates and university educators to charter an organization dedicated to enhancing the scholastic experience of students with disabilities who pursue higher education.

With those signatures, The Global University Disability & Inclusion Network was born on April 8. GUDIN sprang from discussions last fall among international college and university representatives invited to The 2018 Harkin International Disability Summit in Washington, D.C., led by former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, which assembled stakeholders from across the globe to review and explore efforts to boost job prospects for people with disabilities.

In affirming the need for inclusive quality and equitable higher education globally, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDF-4) notes, “… many millions of persons with disabilities continue to be denied a right to education. In many contexts, persons with disabilities are not deemed capable of enrolling in higher education and the spectrum of sectors they are expected to find employment opportunities in is extremely limited. Higher education is truly the chance for a better life…”

Two champions of meaningful access and mainstreaming persons with disabilities in higher education global, Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International), a Paris-based disability advocacy non-governmental organization, and the U.S.-based Association on Higher Education and Disability, were instrumental in leading the GUDIN charge.

“The undersigned organizations … hereby declare their will to cooperate in order to contribute to the enhancement of inclusion of persons with disability within higher education at [the] global level,” read the GUDIN founding statement.

Beacon College President George J. Hagerty joined four other presidents from U.S. institutions (the University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, Drake University, and St. Cloud State University) who signed the charter and founding statement on this international compact.

“It was a special privilege to participate in the chartering of this important international work and advocacy,” Hagerty said after the signing ceremony, “as it will narrow the distance between the justified ambitions of college-ready students with disabilities and the quality and accessibility of the high-level preparation they seek. Beacon’s legacy is that of an institution of higher learning that recognized early-on the potential and determination of collegians who learn differently. We are inspired that this cause has been embraced by an expanding global community.”

Over the next several years, GUDUN organizers plan to employ both international meetings and an advanced electronic backbone to grow a global partnership that will serve thousands of higher education institutions around the world.