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There are a lot of stigmas about being disabled that need to be dispelled. Sometimes pity, fear of the unknown, general awkwardness and a lack of understanding amplify those stigmas.
CILA, the Council for Inclusion, Leadership and Advocacy, works to dispel those stigmas and raise awareness about disabilities, all while teaching their group members to be better leaders for themselves in school and in their communities.
One of the ways to get past the social awkwardness is to know how to act or what to do in an unfamiliar situation with a person who has a disability. Here are a few tips:
• Talk to the person, not their assistant or their interpreter. Do not assume that the person with them is their assistant. People with disabilities have friends too!
• If offering to help, please wait to help until your offer of assistance is accepted.
• For people who are blind or have vision impairments:
o Always introduce yourself, and let them know when you are leaving.
o Guide dogs are cute but also play a very important role for people with vision impairments. Please don’t pet or distract them from their duties.
o Offer your arm. Do not try to push, pull or steer the person.
o Indicate stairs, narrow pathways, backs of chairs or any other obstacles in the room.
• For those that are deaf or hard of hearing:
o Wait for eye contact before speaking.
o Provide written information if available.
o Do not raise your voice. Speak at a slightly slower pace but not overly slow.
• For someone who is in a wheelchair or has mobility impairments:
o Do not lean on wheelchairs or use them as footrests.
o Keep aisles and buttons for doors or elevators clear of obstructions.
Having a disability means being part of a minority group, a group that anyone can join in the blink of an eye and will affect everyone at some point in their life, whether directly or through a friend or family member.
In 2009, according to the Office of Disability Services, about one out of every 25 people on campus had a documented disability.
Not all disabilities can be seen though, such as heart disease, diabetes, traumatic brain injuries, dyslexia and anxiety disorders, just to name a few. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual.” Individuals who were rendered disabled due to a recent injury or work accident may consult with a social security disability lawyer and a workers comp attorney to help you get the right compensation for the injuries you’ve sustained. Professional personal injury and work related accident lawyers can help determine if they qualify for disability benefits.
As the only student group on campus that addresses disabilities, CILA has been asked to give presentations on disability etiquette and awareness to staff members on campus, and has also been a consultant for departments on accessibility and access issues.
We meet every other week, because we know how busy everyone’s schedules are, and, in our meetings, we offer real life skills that will help everyone, disabled or not, through leadership workshops and team-building exercises.
We plan to sponsor events for Disability Awareness Week during the third week of October, and we put out materials to promote disability awareness.
We are also looking at community involvement and volunteer opportunities for our members. At the end of the semester, active participants in the group will earn a leadership certificate.