Disabilities Awareness Day a Success

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who knew that a simple thing like tying your shoelaces could be hard?

It is, when your hands are fettered for one reason or another.

Krista Wood, an 18-year-old University of West Georgia freshman, tied a neat bow on a pink sneaker during Disabilities Awareness Day on campus this week.

It was slow going. Wood wore gloves that had ice cream sticks attached the fingers.

It was a lesson learned.

“People with cerebral palsy or any disability just take a little bit longer to do the little things,” she said.

By most accounts Disabilities Awareness Day – or D Day – was a success. Students made PB&J sandwiches while wearing blindfolds. There were wheelchair basketball games, tennis matches and hearing exams.

The first D Day, four years ago, was just for people in wheelchairs, but it grew as other disabled students wanted to be included, said Whitney Strickland, 22, the past president of the Achievers, the student organization that puts on the event.

But beyond D Day, disabled students said, West Georgia stands out for the way they are accepted and treated on campus.

The day after the first D Day Strickland found herself unable to get to class in her wheelchair because all of the sidewalks around the building were under repair.

“The construction workers helped me get off the sidewalk,” said Strickland, 22, a junior, who has cerebral palsy.  “Four construction workers held onto each side of my chair while I jumped the curb so it wouldn’t hurt me.”

Students and school officials regularly ask what could make life better for disabled students, said Misty Smith, 24, an art major and the current president of Achievers.

Changes have come in big and small ways: elevators added to buildings; the condiments bins in the food court are easier to reach from a wheelchair.

Strickland was drawn to West Georgia’s psychology program. Accessibility within the campus was a bonus.

“There is not another college in Georgia that compares to this school – the amount that they will do for you or the amount of accessibility that there is,” said Strickland, who is from Chattanooga.

When she arrived at West Georgia, Strickland found fellow students were eager to help her reach books on the library shelves, get food in the cafeteria and get around campus.

“I was actually really, really happy when I first got here because I wasn’t used to being offered help. Everyone in my high school, kind of, just didn’t really care that I was there,” Strickland said.

“This is home for me,” she said. “This is the best place for me.”