The American Samoa Community College (ASCC) Social Science Department, Peer Mentors and Student Government Association co-sponsored a talk last week by Dr. Glenn Gabbard, a distinguished figure in the effort to include people with disabilities in higher education, assisted by his son Max Rasbold-Gabbard, on the topic “People with Disabilities in Colleges and Universities – How Did We Get Here and Where Are We Going?”
The talk gave an extensive overview of the evolving attitude towards people with disabilities within the United States, before outlining the triumphs and ongoing challenges currently faced by those individuals within the country’s systems of higher education. Gabbard has given this talk to all levels of college and university students from undergraduates to doctoral candidates. “Typically, most students are unaware of people with disabilities as a group that is disenfranchised from their civil rights,” he explained.
Gabbard’s long involvement with the fight for the rights of people with disabilities actually began here in American Samoa. A member of the local Gabbard family, he graduated from Samoana High School in 1971, and then majored in English Literature at Sonoma State University before returning to the Territory in 1977 to teach at ASCC. In 1983 came a very close call when his daughter Megan Aliitasi Rasbold-Gabbard was born in at LBJ Tropical Medical Center. The infant’s premature birth at 28 weeks put her at risk from a number of life-threatening conditions. Megan was rushed to Honolulu for treatment and survived, but subsequently was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 18 months. Once again, she survived, and thanks to the loving support of her family, today she is able to be independent despite a number of severe sensory impairments.
With Megan’s treatment as their main priority, Gabbard and his family relocated to the US east coast. Today, Gabbard is the principal consultant of Red Wheelbarrow Consulting LLC, a consultation group that focuses on social justice and organizational change. He also serves as the state coordinator of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative, as state-funded effort to support more young adults with disabilities to attend public colleges and universities. Over the course of his career, he has led and managed large-scale national and regional technical assistance projects focused on organizational change in institutions of higher education to better support the success of historically underserved student populations. He has also led national technical assistance efforts supporting leadership development for family members of children with disabilities, interagency collaboration, family involvement in policy design, and post-secondary programs in multicultural and developmental education. Gabbard’s son Max Rasbold-Gabbard works alongside his father in Red Wheelbarrow Consulting LLC as the group’s Research and Evaluation Associate.
Gabbard and Rasbold-Gabbard’s recent visit to American Samoa was to assist in the establishment of the Department of Health’s new Family-to-Family Health Information Center. While in the Territory, they took the opportunity to give their talk on people with disabilities in colleges and universities at ASCC. Taking a moment to reflect on the institution where so much began for him, Gabbard described ASCC during the years he was on its faculty. “I learned a great deal from my students during my first full-time teaching experience at ASCC,” he recalled. “It was an interesting time for the College because the faculty were beginning to take increasing responsibility for building a curriculum that was more responsive to the immediate assets and needs of the students. There were also more Samoan faculty who were joining the college ranks.”
Asked for his observations on American Samoa’s own services available for people with disabilities, Gabbard compared the situation here to that of the rest of the nation. “Though there are many services and supports for individuals with disabilities in the Territory,” he said, “as with many states and jurisdictions, there are challenges in better coordinating these supports and in providing help to families and children on a more immediate basis.”
Gabbard expressed enthusiasm for the turnout for this talk at ASCC, and hopes that some of those listening will feel inspired to participate in the ongoing struggle to ensure the rights of people with disabilities. “I was thrilled to talk with so many young people at ASCC,” he said. “There are so many opportunities for acknowledging the assets and contributions of people with disabilities here in Pago Pago, and I hope that some of the students in the audience will be interested in developing careers that will in some way support the increased inclusion of these individuals in their communities.”