Disability awareness panel discusses wheelchairs on campus

Source: WSU Center for Diversity and Unity

Weber State University students were able to participate in Disability Awareness Month by going around campus in wheelchairs on Wednesday.

October is host to many different awareness campaigns, including breast cancer and mental health. Richard Campos, the programs chair for diversity at WSU, wanted to help raise awareness around campus for disabilities as well.

“I thought the easiest way to raise awareness was to have students go around campus in wheelchairs,” he said.

Students around WSU were able to borrow wheelchairs from the Services for Students with Disabilities Office. Students wore two different signs as they went around campus in the wheelchairs. The sign worn on their backs said, “Are you aware?” The one on the front said, “I am.”

Many students don’t realize how much of a struggle it is to get around campus in a wheelchair. The university was built into the mountainside, and there are a lot of slopes and ramps that people in wheelchairs have to navigate around. Many students were unprepared for the challenges that awaited them in the chairs.

“I didn’t anticipate how much it burns your hands when you go downhill and try to stop yourself . . . so by the end of the day my hands were sore and burned,” said Lola Moli, the diversity vice president at WSU, who participated in the event.

There are many things people take for granted every single day, such as curbs and gradual inclines that many people don’t realize are there when they have the ability to walk over them. These little things that most people don’t see as an obstacle become big obstacles for first-timers in a wheelchair.

The awareness event also included discussion panel, where all the volunteers who were in the wheelchairs, faculty and staff from Services for Students with Disabilities, and students with disabilities came to discuss the experiences they had or have getting around campus.

Students who volunteered for this event were from a variety of groups around campus, including the debate team, bowling team and women’s rugby team. Some students just wanted to experience firsthand the challenges that people in wheelchairs may have on a daily basis.

Those who participated in the awareness exercise learned very quickly that getting around campus in a wheelchair isn’t an easy task, especially when classes are spread across campus.

“You can’t learn what people go through unless you put yourself into their position,” said Sarah Arnold, assistant director for diversity and a member of the women’s rugby team at WSU.

Disability Awareness
(Source: Richard Campos) Don Guthrie, the director of Services for Students with Disabilities, speaks at a disability awareness panel for the Center for Diversity and Unity.

Don Guthrie, the director of Services for Students with Disabilities, said that 95 percent of the time, there are ways to get where wheelchair-bound people need to go.

Many students who do have disabilities are limited in the classes they can take just because of the general location of the classes. It takes time to get across campus, especially in a wheelchair.

“My eyes have been opened, and it feels like they have been stretched over my head,” Moli said, “and I know so much more and have been able to experience what it is like to be in a wheelchair.”