Everyone’s Got Something: Celebrating Disabilities
One in every four people in the United States has some type of disability.
Sometimes, it’s obvious: a pair of glasses, hearing aids or a wheelchair. For others, there may be no outward sign: a mental health struggle, a medical condition or a learning disability.
No matter the issue, Kent State University’s Student Accessibility Services is here to help.
The office, located behind the elevators on the first floor of the University Library on the Kent Campus, aids students dealing with any type of disability. (For faculty and staff, accessibility assistance is offered through Human Resources, within the Division of People, Culture and Belonging).
Student Accessibility Services is celebrating October as Disability Awareness Month, with events and activities to spread the word to students that they are not alone in their struggle and that help is available.
“One in four people across the country has a disability,” said Amanda Feaster, director of Student Accessibility Services, “So that’s somebody you know, no matter who you are or what your job is. Somebody you know has a disability. It is a very normal experience, even though each person experiences their disability a little bit differently, it’s something a lot of people collectively do experience.
“So, our hope is to raise some awareness about that, reduce some of the stigma, and then create opportunities for our students to engage with some strategies, some ideas and some celebration around disability.”
Kent State, Feaster said, has been celebrating disability awareness since 1971, a point of pride for her office.
“Even before there were national laws about accessibility and requiring accommodations, it was something Kent State was already doing,” she said.
October was selected to coincide with National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
“Many national organizations use this month to focus on what it looks like to have a disability and employment,” Feaster said.
Disabilities are wide-ranging, Feaster explained, and are any physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity for students.
A disability can be something sensory, such as blindness, deafness or being hard of hearing, but it can also be anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder, or a medical condition such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease, or a learning disability, ADHD or autism spectrum disorder.
For the past three years, psychological disabilities have been the fastest growing and have become the largest segment of all the disabilities the office serves. “For the past three years, we’ve had a significant increase of about 33%, it’s our biggest category,” Feaster said.
October is a time when many students have begun to experience more serious academic stress with midterms approaching, and Oct. 10 is also World Mental Health Day, both of which make for good timing for Disability Awareness Month.
James Trombka, an access consultant for Student Accessibility Services, said the office has numerous activities planned, including making your own fidget toy, coloring for calmness, destress meditation, and making your own Zen garden. (See the full list of events.)
“This is our second year of doing a lot of big programming since COVID,” he said.
Coffee with a Cop, for instance, allowed students with disabilities to sit down and chat with members of the Kent State Police Services.
The meetings, Feaster said, are important because, while not a big issue at Kent State, interactions between the police and those with disabilities on a national level often are not ideal.
“We like our students to know that our police are certified in crisis intervention training, and to know who they are so that if they have a situation where they need a police officer to be involved, they know a little bit about what to expect,” Feaster said. “Students can feel more comfortable knowing that police understand disability and have some of those positive experiences as well.”
The point of all the activities and events, Trombka said, is to allow students to get to know the office better, and to learn about all the helpful resources available to students.
The awareness is also about getting everyone in the university community to think about disability to eliminate the stigmas that exist.
“The more that people think about disability, the more we are actively creating an environment that confronts some of the ableism that is built into higher education,” Feaster said. Ableism is discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.
Part of that awareness is the office’s use of the disability flag and newly created medallions that display the disability flag, which students can wear at commencement to show their pride in their disabilities.