Graduate Student Champions Services for People with Disabilities Published: April 14, 2014 By: Sean Havey Matt Grigorieff, a first year Master’s student in the Graduate School of Education’s concentration in Cultural Studies of Sport in Education. Matt Grigorieff, a first year Master’s student in the Graduate School of Education’s concentration in Cultural Studies of Sport in Education was first drawn to pursuing higher education through necessity. At age 21, Grigorieff was in a comfortable position, with a small business and parents who provided a home and, most importantly, health insurance. Born with a chronic hip disability, Grigorieff needed regular visits to physicians and physical therapists to help manage chronic pain — to which, he says, he had gotten accustomed over the years. Grigorieff’s life changed when his father was in a car accident and suffered severe head trauma with lasting effects. Two weeks later his mother died from cancer. Left without the means to receive regular health care, the hip pain was becoming unbearable. For $25 dollars per credit, he began attending a kinesiology class at the community college near his hometown in Southern California and learned to cope by using therapy and the school gym. Grigorieff also started to take classes in other areas and soon realized how much he enjoyed school. “The way of dealing with the trauma of losing my parent and having to deal with family issues and disability and no insurance was through knowledge and through learning,” said Grigorieff. “It really provided an escape,” he added. He eventually transferred to Berkeley as an undergraduate student to major in Gender and Women’s Studies. “I felt the Gender and Women’s Studies department prepared me to look at underserved groups and particularly apply that to the disability community,” he said. But Grigorieff began to notice that the community college system, on which he relied so heavily a few years prior, had begun to change. Due to California state budget cuts, the community college system is shifting toward a junior college model, which puts time limits on student’s degree progress and narrows the array of available courses and programs. Many of the disability and elderly health physical education and kinesiology programs have been eliminated or significantly reduced statewide, said Grigorieff. He soon realized that these policy changes inadvertently targeted the disabled and elderly, populations who are typically low-income and life-long learners who benefit the most from repeat courses and low tuition at California community colleges. “The effects of this shift toward a junior college system will mean that 10-20,000 disabled and countless elderly Californians will lose access to one of their only affordable community health options,” said Grigorieff. Soon after finishing his bachelor’s at Berkeley, Grigorieff enrolled in the Graduate School of Education. He noted that the interdisciplinary fluidity of the program has allowed him to flourish academically by taking not only education courses but also courses in business and public policy, to prepare him to influence education policy. “Berkeley is an academic environment where you don’t have to sit in information silos; rather we are encouraged to work with other departments.” His pursuit of equity for disabled populations led him to found “Fitness for All,” an initiative to make sports more accessible to the estimated 8,000 members of the Berkeley community with disabilities, as well as the campus at large. He identified and organized various athletics programs and classes that are suited for disabled populations along with participation of the non-disabled. “What we are trying to do is incorporate the diversity of our populations; empower them and connect them and create a positive environment to help them,” said Grigorieff.