Two Cypress College faculty were recognized by a state organization for their efforts to advocate and provide excellent educational experiences for students with disabilities.
Dr. Dawn Decker, learning disability specialist, and Professor of Dance, Maha Afra were recognized by CAPED, the California Association for Postsecondary Education and Disability. The organization recently honored the two women for their efforts to make Cypress College an accessible place for students with disabilities.
Decker is a member of CAPED and was recognized internally by the organization for her efforts to ensure that students at Cypress College can access the resources they need in order to be successful in school.
“I feel like (this field) is something that chooses you. I feel like it chose me,” she said. “It’s not where I expected to be. I don’t even live in Orange County — I commute 30 miles to and from campus. But the second I walked onto campus, it felt right.”
Decker works in Cypress College’s Disability Support Services (DSS). She was selected for the CAPED President’s Award, a designation that is given to only one person per year within the organization.
Afra was nominated by Decker for the Teacher of the Year Award for her efforts. Afra, a self-proclaimed proud person with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, has developed dance classes that are accessible for students with disabilities. She said she pays special attention to each class and how each student learns so she can adapt her teaching style accordingly.
“You let the students inform how to teach, not have the students adapt to you,” Afra said. “The class is not about you; it is about the students. We want a collaborative space.”
Decker said this is precisely why she nominated Afra and why CAPED selected her for the award.
“She is such an advocate for the students. She exemplified what CAPED is about — every student having access,” Decker said of Afra.
Cypress College has prioritized accessibility in its programming. The college has: adaptive equipment; note-taking assistance; test accommodations; the ARISE hub, a space for students, faculty, and staff to unwind from the stresses of college life; and more. The ARISE (Academics, Relationships, Independence, Self-Advocacy, Emotional Health) Hub was originally designed to be a comforting, low-stimuli space for students with autism and other mental health conditions, but evolved to provide these services for all students and faculty.
Decker said that Cypress College is so accessible thanks to the hard work, advocacy, and dedication of the entire college to ensure all students can learn.
“We have a fantastic team at Cypress DSS. [Afra] and I may have been the awardees on this, but it’s our team behind us,” she said. “Nobody does this in a vacuum; no one does this alone. We lean on each other. Our hearts are on our students. We want to make sure all of our students have these opportunities.”
Cypress College President JoAnna Schilling, Ph.D. said the college is committed to providing accessible learning for all students who want to attend.
“Cypress College believes that we are made better by having a diverse group of students and by creating an environment of inclusion for all who wish to learn,” Dr. Schilling said. “Having faculty and staff who are also committed to ac