The power of support

October 25, 2023

Narmin Jarrous, Class of 2018, says the UM-Dearborn Disability and Accessibility Services office changed her life by giving her the tools she needed to embrace her disability and become a successful business leader and social justice advocate.

Photo of UM-Dearborn alum Narmon Jarrous
Narmin Jarrous is a 2018 UM-Dearborn graduate, business leader and equity advocate.

Narmin Jarrous is a Crain’s Detroit Business “40 under 40” winner, a UM-Dearborn graduate and a business leader.

But before Jarrous could become these, she had to embrace another part of her identity: a person with a disability. She credits UM-Dearborn’s Disability and Accessibility Services office for helping her do that.

“My time at UM-Dearborn changed my life,” she says. “They set me up for success. College is the first time someone with the power to help listened to me, explained that disabilities aren’t always visible, and said that it’s OK to ask for and receive help.”

Prior to this, Jarrous, who was diagnosed with endometriosis in her early teens and experiences excessive pain due to the disease, says a high school staff member told her she’d never attend college due to her absences, which were medically approved. She had a teacher refuse to let her take an exam she missed due to surgery. She even had friends question if her pain was really bad enough to skip social events.

“I was so drained physically from the pain. And I felt like I always had to defend myself or fight to convince people that my pain is real, which drained me mentally too,” Jarrous says.

A UM-Dearborn department chair — who heard about Jarrous’ health-related absences from professors — reached out to Jarrous and referred her to the university’s Disability and Accessibility Services office. At the DAS office, DAS Coordinator Judy Walker spoke with Jarrous about her successes and challenges, collected documentation, advised her on available accommodations, and reached out to Jarrous’ professors. Jarrous’ accommodations included excusing her absences and allowing her to make up missed classwork, which is what she needed to be successful.

“I learned that disability is not a bad word and to accept myself as I am. I learned about equity and how empowering it is. Judy helped renew my excitement for my education,” she says. “My health is always a worry, but I no longer had to worry about how it would impact my education.”

Jarrous graduated with honors and is now the chief development officer at Exclusive Brands, a cannabis company with locations across Michigan, where she focuses on social equity efforts.

Photo of DAS Director Sara Byczek
DAS Director Sara Byczek

DAS Director Sara Byczek, who works with Walker, says Jarrous’ story shows the power of support. But, to give the best support, education is crucial. Byczek says most people are well-intentioned, but often don’t realize the challenges people with disabilities face unless they know someone or are someone.

“You don’t know what you don’t know. Advocacy and education helps us all develop lenses on how to see things from different points of view,” says Byczek, who also serves as UM-Dearborn’s Counseling and Psychological Services director. The DAS office offers educational events and training multiple times a year, she says.

Here are a few DAS offerings and tips the campus community may find helpful.

Simple steps can make classes more inclusive.

Upload materials to Canvas before class so students can preview the content, consider larger fonts and contrasting colors for PowerPoint slides, and turn on the caption tools available in Zoom or Canvas for recordings and remote sessions. Check out DAS faculty resources.

DAS has a space for DAS-registered students who need additional time for testing.

If a testing accommodation can’t be made in the classroom, the DAS office offers test proctoring and alternative formatting options.

In addition to academic accommodations, DAS offers support coaching.

If you notice a DAS-registered student who’s struggling with class-related tasks, let them know DAS offers support coaching. The 30-minute sessions are tailored to a student’s needs and may include mindfulness techniques for testing anxiety, note-taking strategies, time management tools, email assistance and more.

Byczek says events and awareness months — October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month — promote education, but she hopes that society gets to a point where disability awareness and inclusion happens every day.

Photo of DAS Coordinator Judy Walker
DAS Coordinator Judy Walker

“It’s something we should talk about year round because a disability could affect any of us at any time and there are easy-to-adjust things we can do to make life better for everyone,” she says.

To help people discover what they can do, DAS is co-hosting a "Re-imagining Access as a Relational Process" remote workshop from 1 to 2 p.m. Nov. 1. Ohio State University Associate Professor and the Director of Disability Studies Margaret Price will lead interactive activities aimed at discussing — and ultimately finding concrete takeaways for — access questions in work environments. In addition, Price will lead a faculty-focused “Cultivating Communities of Access in Teaching Spaces” in-person workshop from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Nov. 9 in Fairlane Center North Quad E. Lunch is provided. Register here. This is a partnership effort with the Hub for Teaching and Learning.

Jarrous, who recently spoke at a UM-Dearborn event, says her time on campus with Walker and the DAS staff helped her see the importance of supportive communities. Jarrous now serves as an advocate for others. Her advocacy work, business success and leadership roles have been featured in Forbes, Detroit Metro Times, Medium and more. “I had someone speak up for me when I felt I didn’t have a voice,” she says. “Now I can speak up and give a voice to those who need it.”

Jarrous wants Dearborn Wolverines with disabilities to know there’s a caring place to go if they need a voice, advice or accommodations.

“The Disability and Accessibility Services office will support you. Judy advocated for me and took a weight off my shoulders. She gave me a sense of dignity that I didn’t have before,” Jarrous says. “That experience shaped who I am today, what I do today and where I am today.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.