Director of Learning and Accessibility Services
Words: Grace Kenyon ’22
Photos: Tony Hughes
Melissa Norton, Director of Learning and Accessibility Services (LAS), wants to ensure that any student, regardless of disability status, feels at home at Wheaton.
“Looking ahead, how can we represent the diversity of God’s kingdom?” she said.
Norton comes from a multifaceted background in disability services. She worked as a one-on-one aide for a second grader with special needs and at a Chicago public high school for six years before uprooting to Beirut, Lebanon, where her husband, Joshua, had taken a job as a philosophy professor at the American University of Beirut.
In Lebanon, Norton quickly discovered that there was a lack of support for students with disabilities, so she spearheaded an effort to establish the university’s first disabilities office. She served as a mediator between trailblazing students with disabilities who advocated for themselves and (sometimes) skeptical faculty.
“It was all about relationships, meeting with people, and becoming a known person in the community,” she said.
Three and a half years and one child later, the family moved back to the States. At the University of California–Irvine, Norton worked as the assistant director of the Disability Services Center. The large school taught her more about advocacy and allyship, but she missed building close relationships with students in a more personal setting. And Chicago began to call them home.
When Norton arrived at Wheaton, she found a place to combine the lessons she had learned in each of her previous roles. She finally had an opportunity to explore more deeply the intersection between faith and disability. Along with the other LAS staff and the Center for Faith and Disability, she aims to give students with disabilities more opportunities to connect with each other and advocate for themselves.
“It’s about listening and giving each other the benefit of the doubt,” she said.