ETSU student organizations educate others about disability advocacy

From left, Neurodiversity Club Vice President E. Cohen Colvett, Neurodiversity Club Founder Courtney Johnson, ABLE Vice President Ellie Gaskill and ABLE President McKenzie Templeton.

When it comes to disability rights advocacy, educating others is the first key step. 

On Monday, members of East Tennessee State University’s Neurodiversity Club and ABLE Organization set up an interactive booth on campus to educate others about different disabilities and what society should be doing differently in terms of promoting accessibility.

The booth’s aim was to “Advocate, Educate and Celebrate All Abilities,” according to ABLE President McKenzie Templeton.

“It’s just an open conversation,” Templeton said, adding that her organization is made up of “family advocates” while the Neurodiversity Club is made up of “self-advocates.”

“It’s seeing two different perspectives and combining that,” she continued. 

The booth discussions were part of this week’s Civility Week at ETSU, which set out to promote “Dialogue Through Diversity.”

Templeton said many campus discussions about diversity often focus more on things like racial and ethnic diversity rather than mental and physical disabilities and neurodivergence. 

“Diversity includes all forms of ability. Everybody you encounter may have some other form of ability,” she said. 

Templeton, who has a brother with Down syndrome, said the two organizations distributed educational pamphlets and literature on different types of disabilities and ways to advocate for those with disabilities. 

“If you don’t have someone in your life with it, you usually don’t understand it,” she said. 

Courtney Johnson, founder of the Neurodiversity Club, said her organization also aimed to teach others about the movement for self-advocacy among those with disabilities. Johnson also works closely with the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. 

“I think self-advocacy is one of the most important things that you can teach someone with a disability because we have to advocate for ourselves as we get older,” she said. “It's all about self-determination and being able to make your own choices and decisions and being able to choose what you want to do with your life.” 

Johnson said she hoped to clear the air surrounding some misconceptions about disabilities and neurodivergence ahead of Autism Acceptance Month. 

“One of our biggest aims is to dispel myths surrounding disabilities,” she said. “We’re mainly focusing on different types of neurodivergence.”

For more information on other ETSU Civility Week events, visit