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Disability Awareness Week Opens Eyes and Doors

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If you’ve ever known someone with a disability, you may have noticed that there is a lot to learn from that individual.
The extra effort it takes for that person to accomplish tasks that come just a little bit easier for others, often gives us a feeling of admiration and respect.
Most of us will never entirely know how a disabled person feels as they go through his or her daily experiences, but there are certain actions we can take to educate ourselves.
From Oct. 13 to 17, the Disability Services Center will be putting on Disability Awareness Week in an effort to educate students about their programs. The center will set up a booth each day on Ring Road between the Main Library and the flagpoles, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
‘The overall goal of Disability Awareness week and the Disability Services Center is to create an environment that supports and encourages students with disabilities, and increases their participation in all aspects of campus life, both in and out of the classroom,’ said Mark Harmsen, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major.
Harmsen lives with Attention Deficit Disorder, a condition that makes it more difficult for Harmsen to learn in the classroom and is also a peer educator at the Disability Services Center.
The event will attempt to educate the UCI community by offering several different programs open to anyone interested in participating.
Activities include conducting disability simulations, where students who do not have a disability will have the opportunity to experience what its like to live with a disability.
For example, a student may be blindfolded to simulate blindness, or have his or her arm wrapped back to simulate a missing arm. The hope is that these experiences will help the general public understand what it’s like to be in a situation that would be understandably difficult for most people.
Another program that will be going on this week is job shadowing, which allows students with disabilities to follow a UCI faculty member around for a day and for UCI faculty members to follow students with disabilities to get an idea of what they go through each day.
In addition, the center will be holding a silent auction to raise money for the center.
‘The proceeds will fund disability awareness efforts and program scholarships for UCI students with disabilities,’ Harmsen said.
Workshops will also be held for anyone interested in attending. There is a session called ‘Attitudes are the Real Disability,’ which helps educate individuals on how to properly communicate with someone who is disabled.
Anshu Agarwal, a peer educator at the center and fourth-year psychology major, explains that at times, others are simply not aware that they may be offending someone. Agarwal lives with a vision disability himself, and is concerned about the lack of understanding on campus.
‘Sometimes I see students on campus personally that don’t use the correct terminology and that can be irritating to a student with a disability because a lot of the words used are derogatory. We understand that it’s more because these students are uneducated, not because they’re stupid or they want to make fun of us,’ Agarwal said.
When asked how students can get involved, Agarwal felt that the willingness to be educated is already a great deal of help.
‘The best way [students] can help us is to understand that there are students on campus with disabilities, be aware of it and be sensitive to their needs,’ Agarwal said.
However, Agarwal said being overly sympathetic is not the answer to communicating with disabled classmates. Instead, use common courtesy when assisting a disabled person, such as not staring.
‘Generally it’s okay to ask a student with a disability about their disability rather than staring. Staring is uncomfortable for the students themselves as well as the person with the disability. Nobody likes to be stared at,’ Agarwal said.
There are a number of other workshops available including workshops on sign language, resume writing and hidden disabilities.
The Disability Services Center provides ample opportunity for students to learn about this subject and welcomes anyone interested in making a difference.
Students are encouraged to visit the booth next week and open their eyes to a different point of view.