Event gives students a glimpse into daily difficulties of disabled individuals

GVL / Amanda Greenwood
Paige Raabe (Blind) and Zoe Brennan (Deaf) working together to build a tower

Amanda Greenwood

GVL / Amanda Greenwood Paige Raabe (Blind) and Zoe Brennan (Deaf) working together to build a tower

Becky Spaulding

On Thursday, Jan. 24, Sara Bartles, an International Relations major at Grand Valley State University, set out to show her fellow students just how difficult living with a disability can be. Bartles hosted the Enable the Disabled event, which allowed those present to participate in activities that some disabled people face daily, with the hope that they would walk away with a better understanding of disabled individuals.

Though the sub-zero weather kept many students in their dorms and apartments that night, Bartles was still determined to teach the group that gathered in the Laker Village North Community Center.

“If one person learns from it, I’m happy,” Bartles said. “I want to emphasize that these people deal with these problems all day, every day … every action can be hard.”

She set up activities meant to put participants in the shoes of a disabled person – some of them literally, with a test to see just how quickly the students could get dressed, including shoes and a jacket, with a disability – one with arthritic hands, one without use of their legs, and one blindfolded.

Despite her major being non-medical, Bartles’ interest in spreading knowledge about the disabled is a personal one. Bartles was deaf for at least the first three years of her life, and though her memory of it is faded, she knows that it was tough for her parents – and that it would have lead to a difficult life for her.

“I was about five when I was able to speak, which means I was probably hearing for about a year before that,” Bartles said. Her parents began to teach her conversational sign language, thinking it was too late for her hearing to return, when she finally started making noise and speaking.

Now, she knows that though she was lucky enough to lose her disability, not everyone is – and she wants to help others understand that with events like Enable the Disabled.

This is something that is also important to GVSU’s Disability Support Resources program. Jason Osborne, a representative of DSR, spoke at the Enable the Disabled event.

“We’ve got roughly around 1,000 students that are registered with our office with various types of disabilities,” Osborne said. “I will say that 80 percent of them are hidden disabilities (like) ADHD.”

The DSR program offers “assistive technology” to students with injuries, permanent physical disabilities, and hidden disabilities, Osborne said. These technologies include speech-to-text tools for people unable to type, resources to help people study better, even assistant note takers for students who have trouble taking notes while listening at the same time.

“What our main goal is, is to help them function in their classes at the capacity that everybody else tends to be, and they just get accommodations,” Osborne said. A student must apply and have medical documentation of their disability, and DSR will give them a letter that tells anyone on campus that they need certain accommodations.

“99 percent of the time, we can get them what they need,” Osborne said.

The trouble, Osborne said, is that many students aren’t aware of the program, or they are afraid to “be labeled,” and so events like Enable the Disabled getting the word out are important.

Spreading that information among GVSU students like nursing major Sean Pollard is what Bartles had in mind when she created the event.

Pollard attended the program to get a better idea of what it’s like to be disabled, he said.

“I’m in nursing school right now, so we’re dealing with patients who have dementia, and arthritis and diabetes and are confined to wheelchairs, or are amputees, or have limited mobility,” Pollard said. “I think it’s interesting because it … gives a glimpse of what it might be like, every day.”

For more information about GVSU’s Disability Support Resources program, visit www.gvsu.edu/dsr.
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