This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.
Mississippi State University is home to a small group of students with disabilities who seek to improve the college experience for other students with disabilities. We are called United Students. With the new school year beginning, we are preparing to have our first meeting and begin coming up with ideas.
I want us to do more this year. Over the last year or two, we’ve narrowed our efforts to two main events during the school year.
- In the Fall semester, we host an outdoor event associated with National Disability Awareness Month (October). We usually have a variety of information to hand out, along with various activities. Some of the activities have included letting people complete tasks in wheelchairs and experience simulation goggles (impaired vision). I have questioned the effectiveness of some of these activities, but in the end, the group decided on implementing them.
- In the Spring semester, we host a luau in appreciation of those who regularly assist people with disabilities. We invite readers, writers, attendants, and others to the Mahalo Luau (“mahalo” is the Hawaiian equivalent of “thank you”). In addition, each of our members (about 10) invites one faculty member who has been particularly helpful and or influential. We had about 40 guests in total.
In addition to these events we discuss accessibility issues on campus, and generally support each other as students with disabilities.
I’m fairly happy with our Mahalo Luau. We do need to tighten up on invitations and planning, but the event is fun and appreciated by our guests.
However, I am not satisfied with our disability awareness event in the fall. Not that we didn’t try, but that our event wasn’t effective. I want to do more than sit at a table in the sun and pass out literature about a handful of disabilities. I don’t mean to be harsh, I just think we can do more.
So I’m going to be meeting with the other officers and our new faculty adviser sometime in the very near future to discuss our approach for the coming year. We will also be having our first meeting soon. I’m hoping we can get some brainstorming going on to find a more effective way to increase disability awareness on campus.
What is disability awareness, anyway?
In the simplest terms, I would say that the disability awareness of a person is his or her ability to treat a person with a disability like any other person. That is the goal I would like to achieve with our awareness fair. I want to bring down social barriers between people with and without disabilities. When people with and without disabilities on campus feel just as comfortable around each other as with anyone else, my desired goal will be reached.
I realize this isn’t a scholarly definition, but it’s what I think disability awareness is. What do you say it is?
A disability awareness how-to manual
That’s what I need. And actually, I have one. I just to need to find it. But I would like some ideas from the community, especially ideas that you know, from experience, work.
Our disability awareness events need not take place all at once. We can do several things and spread them out. One year, we had an outdoor awareness fair during the middle of the day, and had a panel discussion that night. We had somewhat low attendance, but that was more of a PR failure. I liked the idea because it was a more intimate atmosphere, and our personalities could really show. I wouldn’t mind trying this again if we could come up with the right questions and topics.