Daily Planet Contributor
Most members of the Cal Disabled Students’ Union agree that a disability is not something to feel sorry about.
To promote this and other disability awareness issues, the student-run organization held its inaugural Disability Awareness Day Wednesday on Sproul Plaza of the UC Berkeley campus.
“It’s something that affects the lives of millions of Americans,” said Program Coordinator Lisa Krain. “Everyone has a friend, co-worker or someone they know with a disability.”
One featured event of the day was a “Disability Simulation Program,” which allowed non-disabled people to “adopt” disabilities such as blindness, tunnel vision, dyslexia and mobility impairments requiring use of a wheelchair. Among the participants were UC Chancellor Robert Berdahl and Vice Chancellor Barbara Davis, who rode in wheelchairs, and ASUC President Patrick Campbell, who wore a blindfold to simulate blindness.
Those temporarily confined to wheelchairs were asked to complete an obstacle course, which included maneuvering through cones, boarding a bus on an elevator lift, and finding a classroom in Dwinelle Hall.
“Having never been in a wheelchair before, it was much tougher than I thought it would be,” remarked second-year student Maria Morelli. “It was embarrassing asking people for help – I feel lucky I don’t have a disability.”
However, Disabled Students’ Union president Andy Berk, who founded the organization in the fall of 1999, stressed that people with disabilities can perform most tasks without difficulty.
“Being disabled is not like being in a living hell,” he said. “After a couple days, you adapt quite easily.”
Another portion of the event, entitled “This Ability,” served to challenge existing stereotypes by emphasizing the special ways in which disabled people express themselves. To exhibit their uniqueness, athletes and artists in the disabled community presented performances in music, dance, poetry and sports.
As well, several disability-oriented organizations with city, county and nationwide representation set up tables to distribute information on special education, accessible building architecture and technology, new developments in assistance, social services and advocacy.
Organizations such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, Protection Advocacy Inc., and the Center for Independent Living came to help accomplish the multifaceted goals of Disability Awareness Day: to educate people about the experience of living with a disability; to appreciate achievements of the disabled; to encourage involvement; and to inform students with disabilities about the resources available to them.
Speakers at the event included award-winning artist and poet Lee Williams, Gerald Baptiste of the Berkeley-based Center for Independent Living, human rights lawyer Dr. Theresia Degener, writer LeRoy Moore, and author Dr. Simi Linton, who wrote “Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity,” one of the first prominent books on disabilities.
“It’s up to each and every one of us to ensure that the truth about disabilities is told,” Linton said in her speech. To foster this commitment, students, faculty members and community organizers have been working toward creating a Disabilities Studies at Cal (DiSC) department.
Cal recently received the Presidential Chair in Undergraduate Education grant from the UC system to assist with the development of DiSC. The $90,000 grant, which the UC system gives every three years to spark new programs, was officially given to UC Associate Professors Susan Schweik and Fred Collignon.
While a DiSC department is still a vision of the future, the Presidential Chair grant will allow six courses focusing on disability issues to be taught in the fall of 2000.
“We should have a minor in a few years,” said Schweik.
“But our big hope is for a department.”