For University of Central Florida senior Sarah Goldman, helping others holds a special place in her heart. Goldman, who will graduate next spring with a bachelor’s degree in social work, was born with cerebral palsy. The challenges she has faced have led her to pursue a career that will help others with disabilities while effecting social change.
During her time at UCF, she has served as pledge trainer for her sorority, Sigma Phi Lambda, and worked in Student Disability Services as a peer mentor. In addition, she is a student leader in her campus ministry, Cru, and she participates in the Bachelor of Social Work Student Association and in the Phi Alpha social work honor society.
We asked Goldman about her advocacy and her plans to become a social worker.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced that influenced your interest in social work?
Growing up with a disability, people would always tell me what I couldn’t do. However, I learned how to overcome many of these challenges and succeed. Having a disability has taught me to never give up. It has also helped me to learn to advocate for myself and to use my experiences to help and inspire others. In order to have an equal opportunity, I’ve had to fight for social services. I’ve had advocates and case workers assist me to get the services I need and to help me to get to where I am today. I’ve also faced a lot of rejection and exclusion as a person with a disability. I’ve been in many situations where I was treated as a minority and stereotyped. Being in these situations helped to broaden my view of the world around me and see how important it is for every person to have equal opportunity. Now I want to use my life experiences to contribute, give back and help others.
When did you first develop an interest in social work?
Every July, I am a staff member at the Able Trust’s Florida Youth Leadership Forum for high school students with disabilities. These students come to the forum so confused, having little hope for the future and not knowing their identity and potential. It is an incredibly rewarding feeling when they realize their disability doesn’t stop them from accomplishing things and that they can have hope for a future just like everyone else.
How did those experiences lead to an interest in advocacy?
During my first semester of the social work program, I took a class about social justice, policy and advocacy. At the time, I had no interest in anything related to policy, law or the government. For one of the class papers we had to pick a population and discuss how they are oppressed and discriminated against and also pick three policies that affect that population. This paper truly opened my eyes to the injustice faced by people with disabilities and showed me that although there are laws that protect us, the laws are not perfect or adequate and still prohibit people with disabilities from accessing public places and even employment. It instilled a passion for policy within me and made me want to become an advocate and help fight for these policies that influence people with disabilities. As an advocate, I am not only helping myself as a person with a disability, but the rest of the people in my population. As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
What kind of advocacy work have you participated in at UCF?
I’ve been able to work with one of my professors, Mary Mann, and her graduate social work policy class on a project called Student Advocates Reaching for Awareness & Hope (S.A.R.A.H). Our mission is to be an advocacy group dedicated to the education of disability rights and specifically those who are differently abled to pursue their dreams. We have focused on campus-access issues, such as blocked actuator buttons in classroom buildings, and legislative concerns to provide support services for college students with physical disabilities after they leave high school. After creating a petition with almost 600 signatures and a YouTube video with more than 1,600 views, we went to Tallahassee at the beginning of April and shared the project with a legislator!
You also work in Student Disability Services as a peer mentor. What has that experience been like?
Having the opportunity to assist and improve the life of another UCF Knight with a disability one-on-one by helping them jump-started my passion for social work. That job had a big influence on my choice for the major I am in today.
How have the last four years at UCF impacted you?
From the moment I stepped foot on campus for a tour, I knew it was the place I was supposed to be. A big highlight has been learning to live independently away from my parents and truly experiencing the real world. UCF has prepared me for my future career path and has helped me to grow into the person I am today. My professors have instilled knowledge, passion and support for the social work profession. They have challenged me to critically think and also reflect on myself as an individual so that I can be better prepared to help others. The students at UCF have also made a big impact. Knowing I have a community of Knights supporting me in whatever I choose to do will help me feel confident in achieving my future dreams.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I plan to get my master’s degree in social work immediately following my undergraduate graduation next May. My master’s degree will license me as a clinical social worker and allow me to counsel others. The best aspect of social work is that it is so diverse. I can do clinical counseling or work in policy and advocacy, or both. My dream job is to be a transition specialist, which would allow me to help students transitioning from high school to post-secondary education. I would also love to facilitate support groups for teenagers with physical disabilities and continue advocating for persons with disabilities—whether on a one-on-one case management/counseling level or through advocating for policies at the legislative level.
What do you like to do outside of the classroom?
I have many of the same interests as my peers. I enjoy shopping, going out to dinner and having conversations at Starbucks with friends, traveling and working out at the gym.
How do you hope to inspire others in the future?
Being in the social work program has helped me realize that I have a voice and that I can use it to help make a difference. So many people with disabilities are told what they cannot do and have their dreams and voice diminished. I want to not only advocate for my clients, but also show them they have a voice, too.