LSA senior Vincent Pinti takes to heart the University of Michigan’s stated diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan goal of creating a campus community where all “members are welcomed and supported and differing perspectives and contributions are sought out and valued.”

As a student living with a genetic neuromuscular condition, spinal muscular atrophy, which causes him to use a wheelchair, he knows firsthand how isolating it can feel to be a part of a minority or marginalized group, within a large institution.

“It seems at a first glance, a naked eye view, there are not many people here that look like me, that share my lived experience, that empathize with the adversity that I experience,” said Pinti, who is majoring in political science and minoring in Spanish.

“As a result, at times, it can feel very lonely, and it becomes growingly challenging to be able to teach and share the life I was given with the world.”

But instead of focusing solely on himself and his studies, Pinti decided shortly after arriving on campus to leave his mark at U-M by working to raise the profile of disability advocacy among student government, and by working against ableism to develop a more equitable community.

“There is no room for doubt, uncertainty, apathy or passing the buck,” he said. “It is all of our responsibilities to make sure every student feels welcome here.”

Because Pinti is using his lived experience to explore and find ways to make U-M — and the world — a more accessible place, he will be honored with the university’s James T. Neubacher Award during a virtual ceremony at 2 p.m. Oct. 29.

The Neubacher Award is presented annually to a U-M faculty or staff member, student, or alumnus or alumna for significant achievements in: empowering people with disabilities; advocating for or advancing disability rights or disability justice; and increasing the accessibility of programs and services to promote disability inclusion.

With the country facing a shortage of personal assistants or home health aides, causing a growing crisis for disabled and elderly people, Pinti recently sponsored and successfully passed a resolution within Central Student Government to create an internal scholarship for students working as personal care assistants. The program offers valuable experience to students going into health care and related professions.

Pinti is also calling on university administrators to create a database of personal-assistant jobs at U-M, to ease the labor of recruiting individual Pas — a task that often falls to disabled individuals.

Pinti said he plans to continue his advocacy work past graduation from U-M. He said his next goal is to attend law school so he can become a legal advocate and make a case for how the law should be interpreted and reimagined to support individuals with a variety of disabilities and bent toward providing them with better support.

“People with disabilities have such little control over their destinies — who they can marry, where they can work, how much income

they can have, where they can live,” Pinti said. “We are in the 21st century. There is no legitimate reason that these barriers still exist, so I want to be a catalyst for their erosion.”

This article originally appeared in the October 25, 2021 edition of The University Record