Few places in the country are home to a forum specifically created to explore issues pertaining to disability – but UT is. 

On Friday and Saturday, Campus Disability Advocates will host its second annual Disability Issues and Advocacy Conference in the Toyota Auditorium at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy.

Originally founded in fall 2012 by Lindsay Lee, senior in math and Spanish and now a Rhodes Scholar, the conference is among few in the country that provide a forum for experts from various disability fields to convene and share ideas.

"We hope to continue to make the University of Tennessee one of the most important centers for discourse surrounding disability," Lee said. 

Kathleen Connelly, secretary for CDA, said the conference will not only address to issues affecting the disability community, but also the multitude of ways to address those issues. 

"The aim is to not just re-hash the same conversations and the same projects that are already happening, but to provide a jumping-off point for new ideas," Connelly, a senior in philosophy, said. 

"An academic conference focused on disability issues doesn't seem like it would be radical or unusual," she added, "but it really is."

As a minority group, Lee said she believes people with disabilities face unique obstacles, making the conference an even greater necessity.

"Rarely do people say and do things to people with disabilities with negative intentions," Lee said. "But that is perhaps more harmful. If no one is talking about us at all, then they aren't thinking about us either. Advocacy is more difficult because people simply aren't aware of the issues."

"We want to educate students and the general population about disability and all its facets so they start thinking about it in a different way, and ultimately advocate for inclusion and equality," Lee said.

The conference's keynote speaker will be Mark Perriello, president and CEO of American Association of People with Disabilities. AAPD is the nation's largest disability rights organization. Before becoming AAPD president, Perriello worked for the Obama administration as well as other advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign.

In addition to Perriello, the conference will feature talks from Knoxville organizations currently providing advocacy and disability services to the local community.

While many challenges remain, Connelly believes Knoxville residents can make meaningful progress in the area.

"Disability advocacy means taking a long hard look at things we take for granted – it's not as simple as making sure you pass the bare minimum of federal regulations," she said. "But I also hope everyone sees that as many problems there are for us to discuss, there are 10 times as many solutions in the air. These are issues that people are taking real action on.

"The presentations at this conference talk a lot about how much change is still necessary, but also about the fact that this change really is possible."

For more information on the conference, click here.