Social Work Disability Justice Coalition is a new but mighty group on campus

“The Social Work Disability Justice Coalition (SWDJC) is the answer to a question I posed to the School of Social Work in 2020. I wondered if the School was interested in expanding their research on the last and least visible protected population under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, people with disabilities,” said El Johnson, the group’s founder and president.

“Many students in higher education suffer quietly, often choosing not to disclose their disability even to receive help from Student Disability Services, for fear of the discrimination and stigma that is implicitly expressed,” Johnson said.

“We are building a community with an avenue to create much needed change,” said Jenna Friedman, SWDJC’s vice president.

Although the School has partnered with community organizations and leaders to bring disability justice to the forefront of our community consciousness through lectures and a Graduate Certificate in Disabilities, there is still work to be done.

The official SWDJC mission is to “raise awareness about accessibility issues across Wayne State, metro Detroit, and the social work profession. By joining together in action, we can make the world an accessible environment for all.”

SWDJC Vice-President and BSW student Jenna Friedman and SWDJC President and BSW student El Johnson at the 2023 WSU Winterfest
From left: SWDJC Vice-President and BSW student Jenna Friedman and SWDJC President and BSW student El Johnson at the Wayne State 2023 Winterfest

“I consider myself to be a disrupter, dissident, collaborator, and cheerleader. I’ve enjoyed witnessing first-hand the growing solidarity between our members…watching them explore ways to express our mission fills me with joy and satisfaction,” Johnson said.

On February 23, 2023 the group is sponsoring a movie featuring the 2019 film, ‘The Upside,’ starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston. 'The Upside' tells the story of a former billionaire (Cranston) who now uses a wheelchair and how his relationship with his caregiver (Hart) gives them both a new lease on life. Through humor and reflective storytelling, ‘The Upside’ explores the ups and downs of living with a disability and emphasizes the importance of lived experiences. Following the movie showing there will also be a brief reflection led by SWDJC student leaders. Here, attendees will have the opportunity to tease out key themes and adapt them to their own social work practice. All are welcome to attend the Social Work Disability Justice Movie Night event from 5:30 – 9:00 pm EST. It will be held in a hyflex format, both virtually on Zoom and in person in the School of Social Work building. RSVP’s are required and can be completed here.

“Our group is and will continue to be a powerhouse. Wait for it, for we ARE emerging,” she said.

To join, connect via Get Involved or contact Johnson at

Author: Laura Hipshire

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