Junior Maria Saito (far left), Career Coach Elizabeth Pode (left middle) and first-year Ryan LoCascio (right middle) table with Community Engagement and Services for Disability Awareness Week on March 16. Students and staff said the week’s goal was to educate the Pepperdine community on the topic of disability. Photo by Lauren Dionyssiou
Pepperdine students and staff hosted the University’s 4th Annual Disability Awareness Week, which took place March 13-17.
Former President Ronald Reagan marked March as National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in 1987, according to the National Disability Institute. As Pepperdine took part in this month, student-run events allowed the community to participate in panels, discussions and workshops.
“One in ten Pepperdine students has some sort of disability,” said Sandra Harrison, executive director of the Office of Student Accessibility. “So, it’s not something that’s far away. It’s the people you sit with in the Caf. It’s the peers that you’re in a small group with.”
OSA serves around 1000 students a year, or about 10% of the student body from all five schools of Pepperdine. The percentage has increased in the past five years, Harrison wrote in a March 10 follow-up email to the Graphic.
The Office of Student Accessibility joined with the Seaver College Student Government Association, the Office of Community Engagement and Service and the graduate schools to observe Disability Awareness Week, Harrison said.
The goal of the week was to educate the Pepperdine community about disabilities and “create a sense of disability pride, and to articulate meaningful actions for students with disabilities that go beyond the week’s activities,” according to Pepperdine’s website.
“Disabled, disability: They’re not bad words,” said junior Maddie Beadle, the lead student organizer of Disability Awareness Week. “It’s just as much of a valid way of life as anyone else. And there are a lot more people here at Pepperdine who are disabled and who identify as such than people think. We’re here, we exist and we’re proud.”
There were different events students and staff could attend throughout the week, according to Pepperdine’s Website.
Events included: a self-advocacy workshop, an American Sign Language class, a presentation from the Pepperdine Neurodiversity Club, a panel discussion regarding accommodation and accessibility in the workplace, and a screening of “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” as well as a panel discussion.
Chad Duffy, assistant professor of English and director of Pepperdine’s Social Action and Justice Program, gave a presentation March 14 in the Howard A. White Center’s Intercultural Affairs Lounge, as well as virtually, regarding self-advocacy as one of the many events the Pepperdine community could attend.
“Accommodations aren’t the only way someone can advocate for themselves,” Duffy said. “So, that’s something that we’re going to explore. What are the many different ways that someone can be an advocate or self-advocate?”
Duffy said he wants to think of the individual as a “collective.”
“How can we as a group and as a community come together and advocate for ourselves and for disabled people in general on campus?” Duffy said.
Duffy said disabled individuals’ stories won’t be the same across the board. The workshop was not just geared for those who actively identify with being disabled but could even be a space to “make friends with like-minded people,” Duffy said.
“There might also be people who maybe don’t even accept disability as part of their identity but still would benefit from being in community with people who identify as disabled,” Duffy said.
The week was a learning process, as there’s a lot of things able-bodied people take for granted, said junior Rebecca Jackson, Disability Awareness Week participant.
“For me, a big takeaway was noting all of the small things that I don’t even notice. So like the doorways, how heavy a door is, and how that can be a barrier to some people whether they’re in a wheelchair or just not fully able to open the heavy doors,” Jackson said.
As an Education Major, Jackson said she could envision how she would help students navigate accommodation needs.
“Not everything has to be done one way,” Jackson said. “If some students would rather make a slideshow versus give a speech or write an essay, there’s so many ways to do things that can be accessible.”
Jackson said teachers should work out accommodations with the student because there is no one-size-fits-all model.
“As a teacher, I think that something that would be helpful for me if I want to know how to accommodate a student would be working together in the self-advocacy of the student because the person who knows themselves best is themself,” Jackson said.
The goal is to make Pepperdine a community where “everyone does belong,” Beadle said.
“I want to live in a world where I don’t have to explain myself to other people, where I don’t have to receive hurtful comments,” Beadle said. “This is one step in that right direction.”
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