University of Mississippi’s Student Disability Services office is hosting its fifth annual Disability Awareness Month, an all-inclusive event that has grown from an open-house in 2010 to multi-event bringing awareness and inclusion to disabled students and those who support them at the university.
Robin Yekaitis, disability specialist at Student Disability Services, said, “This month brings awareness to differences on college campus. It (supports) everybody’s uniqueness and helps them be understood and embraced.”
Yekaitis has seen the event grow from an open-house of the office to an entire month of events from the wheelchair tournament to the student panel to a signing rave at the Union.
The month took off with the MACE Wheelchair Clinic last Tuesday where the Mississippi Association for Community Empowerment presented a discussion on wheelchair sports and hosted an exhibition wheelchair basketball game where the Rollin’ Tigers showed how to play and told about other wheelchair sports. The CEO and founder of MACE, Mr. Antonio Wright got everyone to quickly catch on to the phrase: “Pinky Up for Courage.”
That fun continued with the third annual energetic Rollin’ Rebels Wheelchair Basketball Tournament from last Tuesday to Thursday. The following teams that competed in the tournament were the Chair Jordans, Rollin’ Rebs, Phi Mu, Team Ability Experience (representing Pi Kappa Phi), Kappa Sigma, the Higher Ed Ballers, the School of Pharmacy, RAMMAfications (Recreation Administration Majors and Minors Association), and Ole Miss Athletics. After two intense days the Chair Jordans became the champions. The proceeds from the tournament went to the MACE foundation that helps people with spinal cord injuries get involved in physical fitness and sports training programs.
Samra Ward, graduate assistant for Student Disability Services who competed in the wheelchair basketball tournament, said, “I think one of the greatest things about our disability awareness month is that each event focuses on redefining the term disability. To our office, the term disability means ‘discovering individual students’ ability,’ and through each event, we hope to convey that a disability offers a refreshing perspective that is needed in today’s world.
“Take our wheelchair basketball tournament, for example. It takes true athleticism and upper body strength to participate in a sport like wheelchair basketball,” said Ward. “As we watched the Rollin’ Tigers play and then played ourselves, we quickly discovered that while wheelchair basketball is a modified sport, the intensity of the sport is not. With each wheelchair collision and successful basket, we as participants were able to see what it means to be empowered by our individual abilities.”
Here is a video of Robin Yekaitis discussing upcoming events for this month:
Next Tuesday there will be a student panel at 12:30 p.m. at the Union Ballroom. Yekaitis said, “Our most effective event is the student panel. There will be six students with various disabilities who are from undergraduate to graduate.”
The students will share their experiences at University of Mississippi and their lives in general, and there will be a time for questions for further discussion. Later on that same day there will be a new event this year: the screening of FIXED. FIXED is a documentary questioning common beliefs on what is normal and what isn’t by exploring technologies that enhance and change physical abilities and what such technology means for future generations. In the documentary the viewer will meet five disabled people: Gregor Wolbring, a scientist; John Hockenberry, journalist; Patty Berne, disability justice educator; Hugh Herr, bionics engineer; and Fernanda Castelo, exoskeleton test pilot.
On April 23, there will be an 11 a.m. lecture on the history of American Sign language in the Union Ballroom. It is a brown bag lecture led by Corey Blount, who is a Disability Specialist and Staff Interpreter at the Student Disability Services.
Blount was also the former president of the Ole Miss Hand Band that will entertain the lunch-goers at the Union with a signing rave in partnership with NPHC fraternity men who will stroll with them.
The open-house, the event that started it all five years ago, will be on April 28 at Martindale 234 at noon. There the students can tour the office to see the technology and services it has for disabled students.
“We have a computer lab software that enlarges programs for those with low vision,” said Yekaitis. “We also have software that reads text out loud. This is a place where students can do their homework. We also have a library booth at Weir Hall with the software enlargement technology since our office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
There at the open house at 12:30 p.m. two Access Awards will be granted to a faculty member and a staff member, each nominated by students as outstanding in their understanding and accommodation of students’ disabilities.
And on April 29, there will be the Interactions Workshop held in conjunction with the William Winter Institute where the participants will learn how to avoid common microaggressions towards students with disabilities.
All throughout the month, and into May, are Disability Webinars. The first one took place April 7 featuring accessible online maps. The second will be on April 30 from 2 to 3:30 p.m., featuring Disability Studies 101. The last one is on May 7 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Gender, Sexuality and Disability.
Callie Daniels is a staff reporter for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.