Hawkeye Accessibility Ambassador Program


In the spring of 2012, members of the University of Iowa Council on Disability Awareness began to discuss the creation of a recognition program for departments, groups or individuals on the UI campus that have improved some aspect of accessibility for persons with disabilities.  As the discussions evolved, three CDA members (Carly Armour, Brian Manternach, and Mike Hoenig) concluded that there was a significant need for the design of facilities that are more inclusive, welcoming and supporting of individuals with disabilities. As a result, the three began to envision a model for a student-led initiative which would be designed to create the infrastructure needed to bring students with disabilities (the experts with personal knowledge of what works) to the table to help create improved physical access to new and existing campus facilities.  An initial meeting with 12 students with disabilities was held to gauge interest in the program and it was discovered they wanted to be actively involved.  Mike, Carly, and Brian submitted a proposal and received the Diversity Catalyst Seed Grant from the Chief Diversity Office and officially established the Hawkeye Accessibility Ambassador program in 2012.

In the fall of 2018, the HAA program evolved into a student-run activist group and combined with the campus student disability organization, UI Students for Disability Advocacy & Awareness (UISDAA). More information: 

Refer to the program's Milestones and Activities page for more history.

Program Description & Roles

The Hawkeye Accessibility Ambassador (HAA) program was designed to equip students with disabilities with relational leadership skills and provide them an opportunity to use those skills to become change agents on campus. 

In the spring of 2018, there were 12 active ambassadors: 10 who have a disability and two who have a significant other or family member who has a disability. Carly who works at Student Disability Services has been instrumental and the key with ambassador recruitment efforts.

Students participating in the HAA program are trained and coached how to effectively fulfill their leadership responsibilities with the guidance and training given by Carly Armour and Mike Hoenig. Emphasis on being an advocate through education and relational leadership was provided during training.  Brian Manternach introduced universal design principles, basic blueprint reading skills, and overall UI design and construction process.

Once students were comfortable with their roles, ambassadors attended design review meetings with architects, consultants, engineers, and key stakeholders involved with the design and construction of campus facilities. They also served as campus partners to provide informal assessments for specific departments and office space on campus. Ambassadors were also able to provide input on different types of furniture or wayfinding guides and apps.  Students provided input and raised questions on accessibility issues during these opportunities.  Because Mike and Carly each have disabilities, they were also able to give input for sight and hearing.  Mike, Carly, and Brian served as mentors/advisors to the Ambassadors during these meetings and were available for debriefing after each meeting. 

After each accessibility meeting or assessment, a detailed report of findings and suggestions was sent to each design or office space administrator.  Suggestions were reviewed and often a majority was included in the designs and/or changes were made with space designs to make it more inclusive.

Progress & Impact

There were many benefits of this program of which a few are listed here: 

  1. By hearing first-hand from students directly impacted by their decisions, architects, engineers, consultants and UI key stakeholders better recognized the value of design features which are inclusive and supporting of individuals with disabilities and therefore increase the likelihood of design team members to incorporate such features.
  2. Through the first-hand experience of sharing their expertise and articulating their needs, students gained self-confidence in their leadership skills which enabled them to succeed in their future life endeavors and to advocate on behalf of others.

The Hawkeye Accessibility Ambassador program really transforms the lives of those involved. Once a shy first year student, I soon developed strong leadership as well as communication skills that would help me graduate college and get a job at the University of Iowa.  The HAA experience has really transformed me into the professional individual I am today.” - Josh Hannan, HAA Alumni, Supply Chain Associate - UI Purchasing Department

  1. The program served as a model for other institutions of higher education by demonstrating the positive results achieved with changing culture acceptance of more inclusive environments while increasing student success. The three provided presentations at regional summits and conferences.
  2. By focusing on student engagement and outreach, the program has strengthened diversity and recruitment efforts of students with disabilities including international students and scholars.  People with disabilities constitute a population capable of enriching the campus community. They are also a population historically under-served by institutions of higher learning and traditionally of special concern for Iowans.
  3. We suspect that the program will and has increased recruitment, retention, and graduation rates of students with disabilities by affording them environments that are supportive of their success.
  4. Architects, engineers, consultants, and UI key stakeholders have incorporated accessible and universal design principles into their designs and construction of new and existing facilities.