Steve Ferreira, Bellevue College graduate, successful athlete and founder of the non-profit organization Beyond Disabilities gave his presentation “Living a Disabled Life” on Tuesday, July 12 in the Faculty Commons. He talked about his disability of cerebral palsy and the struggles he faces throughout his life. The presentation was open to all faculty members and students.
Ferreira was born in Taiwan in 1988 and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy soon after his birth. At the age of 15 he decided to make a positive difference for disabled people and since then he has held more than 300 presentations at other high schools and colleges around Washington state.
Several staff members, among them former teachers of Ferreira attended the presentation. Instructor Mandie Mauldinnash said that she came because Steve gave his presentation as part of one of her faculty workshops and inspired everyone. “It’s a way to have faculty really understand that you can’t look at a student and understand what their needs are,” she explained. According to Mauldinnash, it is equally important for students to gain a better understanding of what is means to be disabled. “I have focused on the development of community in the classroom and if the teacher doesn’t understand the students and the students don’t understand each other then you are not going to be able to create strong learning environments,” stressed Mauldinnash.
In the eyes of 10-year-old Grace Andrade, daughter of a staff member, the successful inclusion of disabled people should matter to everyone. “We need to understand that we can’t judge people just by the way that we see them, we need to judge them by their personality,” said Andrade.
Usually, Ferreira’s presentations focus on his life story, his accomplishments and strategies to avoid bullying. This time, however, he decided to take a different approach and invited his audience to an open discussion about disability and the problems connected with it. After he got everyone to introduce themselves, he wanted to know how many people in the room thought that they had some kind of disability. The majority of the listeners identified themselves as having disabilities such as getting old, asthma or scoliosis. Moreover, a noticeable number of people could contribute experiences that disabled friends or partners and identify problems which disabled people encounter on a daily basis. Susan Hampson from the Office of Instruction said that her cousin who had polio frequently becomes frustrated when he is out in public spaces with his wheelchair. “Some people just walk along and if you’re moving along with your wheelchair and they are in front of you and just stop, you have a hard time stopping your wheelchair without running into them.”
Ferreira motivated his audience to think about the obstacles which people in a wheelchair face when going to high school, college or theaters. He specifically pointed out the things which have to be improved at Bellevue College and gave staff members ideas to consider. Among the problems identified by Ferreira and the audience was missing ramps, ignorance of other students, malfunctions and absence of elevators and the limited emergency exits accessible for wheelchairs. An issue which Ferreira particularly cares about is the placement of the Bellevue College Disability center on the north campus instead of the main campus. “That is excluding people with disabilities from having a normal life, creating new friends and just being themselves,” he stated.
At the end of his presentation Ferreira proudly showed a clip aired by Evening Magazine which featured his story and achievements. “Nothing stops me from what I want to accomplish,” Ferreira said. “People in this country need to stop making assumptions before they meet the person.”