Over 30 disability organizations handed out information about resources for the disabled and offered education for the nondisabled during Thursday’s second annual Disability Awareness Day on the UC Berkeley campus.
The event, organized by the Disabled Student Union, was held outside Sproul and Dwinelle halls where students, faculty and the public strolled in the sunshine among the 20 booths set up to raise awareness about the disabled community.
The participating organizations promoted resources for the disabled, offered the nondisabled an insight into being blind or reliant on a wheelchair, and encouraged employment and volunteer work in the disabled community.
“One of our objectives is to provide information about resources in the community because Berkeley is a very resourceful city for the disabled,” said Christina Rubke, who helped organize the event. “We also want to raise awareness about disabilities. There are tons of them out there and there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
The Center for Independent Living was
promoting attendant job opportunities. Attendants assist disabled individuals with daily tasks including running errands, light housekeeping and cooking and personal care such as dressing and grooming.
Former UC students established CIL in Berkeley in 1972. CIL offers the disabled assistance with housing, employment and financial benefits counseling.
Sean Reidy, coordinator for personal assistance services at CIL, said that there used to be an abundance of attendants in Berkeley but now there’s a shortage.
“There’s not as many people who want to work as attendants,” he said. “Part of the reason we’re out here today is to get the word out.”
Reidy said fewer people are aware of attendant work or they have misconceptions about the nature of the work.
CIL has launched an information campaign called FAQ, which answers questions job seekers might have about attendant work. (See: www.cilberkeley.org.)
Some of the misconceptions include a belief the job requires special training. In fact, many attendant jobs require little or no training. According to a CIL fact sheet, many disabled people consider attitude more important than training.
CIL Executive Director Jan Garrett said attendant work offers some attractive benefits for students such as flexible schedules, casual environment and the opportunity to work with interesting people.
“There are even some opportunities for travel,” said Garrett, who relies on a wheelchair. “I’m going to Europe next year and I’m bringing an attendant, all expenses paid.”
The Disabled Student Union provided five wheelchairs for those who wanted to experience getting around campus without using their legs. Others donned blindfolds and made their way around the busy campus. The “Adopt a Disability” program was organized by DSU member Andy Berk.
“What we want to get at is that using a wheelchair is not a terrible burden,” Berk said. “It’s really quite easy, we do it every day.”
In exchange for agreeing not to use their hands, participants were given a wheelchair, a guide and an obstacle course. The first task was to get on and off a bus by using the disabled lift. Then they entered Dwinelle Hall where they took the elevator to Floor E.
Participants had to ask passersby to open the doors. At the elevators they asked another passerby not only to push the button for them but also to hang around so they could select the desired floor.
Lisamaria Martinez, who is legally blind, completed the obstacle course twice and then offered her services as a guide.
“Its really fun,” she said as she zoomed off to guide another temporarily disabled person, her cane leading the way.
Other information booths included Protection and Advocacy, which helps the disabled with legal issues such as discrimination in housing, transportation and employment.
Canine Companions for Independence were also present to promote their puppy-raising program. CCI is looking for people to raise puppies from the time they are eight weeks old until they’re 13 to 18 months. The puppy trainers provide basic house training and then they are turned over to professionals who teach them personal assistance skills.
“It’s really a great program,” said a smiling CCI volunteer Laurie Monserrat. “Just when they stop crapping all over the house and eating your things and you’re thoroughly in love with them, you have to give ‘em up. But you feel really good about it.”