Jessica Holdren (B.A. ’07) didn’t set out to be a disability specialist. When she got her psychology degree from UMKC, she planned to focus on eating disorder research and prevention.
While pursuing her master’s degree at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, Holdren discovered a new passion: helping students with disabilities.
“It’s a big transition from high school to college, especially for a student with a disability,” Holdren says. “I hope they will grow and embrace that part of themselves, and realize there’s nothing wrong with them being just the way they are.”
Today, Holdren is a disability specialist at Arcadia University in Glenside, Penn. She says her role is to ensure all students get the same access to a college education.
“I want to make sure that when people are excluded by the nature of a program or how a place was developed, that we find ways to improve them,” Holdren says.
Holdren has a special interest in helping people with “invisible disabilities,” or conditions that are not immediately obvious, such as autism, anxiety or depression.
Despite the increasing enrollment and success of students with disabilities in higher education, Holdren says there are always new challenges. One of her jobs is helping instructors use technology to benefit all students, no matter their ability.
“How you make a document or make a video can make it inaccessible to someone,” Holdren says. “It’s completely unintentional.”
Living just outside of Philadelphia, Holdren says she loves being surrounded by history.
“I love the historical landmarks — the rich history there,” she says. “The first home my husband and I rented was built in the 1800s. I love how things are pretty well preserved.”