October is Disability Awareness Month. It was created to celebrate the contributions of individuals with disabilities and to bring awareness to the needs of disabled people.
According to the US Census Bureau, 51.2 million Americans have some level of disability. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one of five American families has a relative suffering from a mental illness.
Inside the quiet offices of the Disability Resource Center (DRC) in B132, staff, students, and volunteers have been working hard to plan and organize events for Disability Awareness Month.
“People don’t know enough about us,” said Susan Gjolmesli, Director of the Disability Resource Center. “We have our history of eugenics and civil rights and not enough people realize it.” She sees things changing for the better at Bellevue College. “Peers are really finally reaching to a place where they’re understanding disabilities,” said Gjolmesli. “Things are turning around. The Associated Student Government is embracing difference all across the spectrum.”
DRC is hosting many events on campus to celebrate and raise awareness of disabilities.
Including Disability PRIDE Day – “Journey to Nepal and Back” on October 15, 11:30AM to 1:00PM in the Carlson Theatre on campus.
One group reaching out to students is the Rotaract Club, whose purpose is to encourage students to make a difference in their community.
In 2008, ASG and Rotaract Club raised funds to send six students and two advisors to Nepal to work with their twin club, the Rotaract Club of Patan, Nepal.
There, students Jenny Lina, Zafar Haq, Nell McInerney, Katie Mckeown, Rani Thykkuttathil, and Marilyn Mayers had the chance to witness what living with disabilities in a third world country was like. David Bruckner and Jerry Bunce advised the group.
It was from the Rotaract Club of Patan, Nepal that the DRC adopted the motto for this year’s awareness month, “We All Are Able.”
This month, five of the students will relive and bring back their experiences. They will individually present the lessons they have learned, people they have met, and ways their lives have changed.
A video and slideshow from their adventures will be shown, after which the audience can ask the panel questions.
Live music will be featured. Chris Jones, a pianist and gospel singer from Twin Falls, Idaho has been blind since birth and uses a guide dog.
“He’s going to rock the house,” said Gjolmesli. “He has a powerful set of pipes.”
The day will end with a reception in the lobby.
Another event is “Into the Fire” on October 27, 10:30AM to 12:00PM, also in the Carlson Theater, From Had to Be Productions, Carrie Gibson and Anthony Curry will present a play about men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with disabilities and combat-related trauma.
Before writing their production, Gibson and Curry interviewed many veterans and their family members.
Returning veterans suffer from a range of conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, loss of limbs, chronic pain, and mobility challenges.
The play brings to light the difficulties that veterans face as they attempt to piece their lives together again. The transition from wartime to civilian life can be rough and challenging. To lighten the mood on the harsh realities, humor and music are sprinkled throughout the play, which will be followed by an interactive discussion with the actor/playwrights and the audience.
Also featured will be “The Ability Experience” on October 30, 10:00AM to 2:00PM in the Bellevue College gym. Stat Medical Inc, the Wellness center staff, PE instructors, the Athletic Program, Rotoract Club and the DRC have worked to create a day of fun, interactive learning. Anyone is welcome to come and enjoy games and activities where they can experience on a firsthand basis what it is like to have a disability for a couple of hours.
Wheelchairs will be available for wheelchair basketball games and obstacles. People can be given difficult “assignments,” such as going to Tully’s and attempting to order a drink without speaking. The goal is to show what a deaf person may face on a daily basis.
The disabilities being presented in the gym will just be the obvious ones.
“Everyone is disabled,” said Gjolmesli. “Everyone has weaknesses. They have strengths in certain areas, but weaknesses in others. Everyone has value.”
Events planned for disability month
this year seem to have hyped students with interest in getting involved on campus.