Chancellor Malatras Appoints Members of the SUNY Empowering Students with Disability Task Force to Improve Accessibility, Eliminate Stigma, and Create Academic Opportunities for Students with Disabilities

November 2, 2021

28 Members Representing Higher Education, Advocacy Organizations, and Government Selected

Part of SUNY for All Program to Expand Access to High Quality College Education

Full List of Members Available Here

Albany, NY – State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras announced the members of the SUNY Empowering Students with Disability Task Force to uncover barriers and find solutions to improve accessibility, eliminate stigma, and create academic opportunities for students with disabilities across its 64 colleges and universities. A total of 28 members will join the first-ever SUNY task force, representing higher education, advocacy organizations, and government. The Task Force starts today with a virtual meeting with SUNY Cobleskill President Marion Terenzio and SUNY Empire Officer in Charge Nathan Gonyea, who the Chancellor appointed to lead the task force in July. A full list of members is available here.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19.4 percent of undergraduate students and 11.9 percent of all graduate students enrolled in college have a disability. As of October 2018, SUNY serves 43 percent of self-identified college students with disabilities attending postsecondary institutions in New York State.

“The SUNY Empowering Students with Disability Task Force will present a plan to break down barriers to higher education for individuals with disabilities,” said Chancellor Malatras. “That’s what our SUNY for All program is all about—there is a place at SUNY for anyone seeking opportunity through higher education. This commitment to our students with disabilities will send a strong message along with concrete actions to ensure any person with a disability experiences a campus that is fully accessible, free of stigma, and is provided with the full range of academic opportunities they deserve.”

SUNY Board Trustee Camille Joseph Varlack said, “SUNY was founded with the mission to provide equal access to a premier higher education for all students, and we must continue to build on this promise to ensure our campuses remain inclusive and accessible for all. We are proud of all the members of the Empowering Students with Disability Task Force who have dedicated their time and passion to examine any barriers to an education that may exist on our campuses, and develop real and meaningful reforms to strengthen our commitment to our students with disabilities.”

The Task Force is charged with the following:

  • Improving Accessibility: To survey and review all campuses on the accessibility they provide for students with disabilities in classrooms, labs, libraries, cafeterias, housing, and transportation. To remove not only physical, but emotional and social barriers to an inclusive learning environment.
  • Stigma & Ableism: To acknowledge that students who disclose a disability face negative stereotypes, inaccurate assessments of their ability to complete college-level work, and increased likelihood of self-doubt and academic anxiety. To actively address negative stereotypes and misinformation on all SUNY campuses.
  • Increasing Academic Opportunities: To determine if recruitment efforts are equal for students with disabilities, to ensure enrolled students receive the same opportunities for advancement and opportunity, with accommodations as necessary. To highlight the strengths of students with disabilities and bring pride to their achievements.

SUNY Cobleskill President Terenzio said, “The potential that SUNY students hold within them is without limit. Our students do not require our permission to thrive, but our understanding of the obstacles they face on their path toward their degree. Through our understanding and the voices of our students and alumni, the talented members of this committee can take this opportunity to prompt significant enhancements to academic accessibility for all students across the SUNY system."

SUNY Empire Officer in Charge Gonyea said, “Now more than ever, it is critical that colleges and universities increase access to educational opportunities for, and eliminate the outdated and erroneous misconceptions about, students with disabilities. We must change the narrative. Individuals with disabilities should not have to adjust to our institutions; our institutions must adjust to effectively support all individuals regardless of their disability status. I am eager to join my fellow task force members and move forward with this important work.”

SUNY Student Advocate and SUNY Empowering Students with Disability Task Force member Kalief Metellus said, “SUNY is strenuously addressing concerns from students of underserved backgrounds and we must put in the same amount of effort for our students with disabilities. The members of the SUNY Empowering Students with Disabilities Task Force are determined to call out areas of concern, such as ableism and harmful stigmas, to promote a more accessible and accommodating learning environment for all students. I am honored to be a member of this task force to assist in confronting the issues brought to SUNY’s attention and implement solutions to create equal opportunities within higher education.”

The Task Force will bolster efforts across SUNY that includes the creation of the SUNY Empire Center for Autism Inclusivity, which focuses on providing support and conducting research to better serve individuals with autism in the classroom; the “CareerNext” program at SUNY Cobleskill, which offers personalized academic and residential support for students with Autism and learning differences; as well as SUNY Dutchess Community College’s “Think Ahead” program, which helps those with intellectual disabilities to develop job and life skills.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit

Share this:


Holly Liapis
Email the Office of Communications