One BYU student made it to the Joseph Smith Building before she had to call her roommate to push her to the Wilkinson Student Center in her wheelchair. She was participating in Accessibility Awareness Week and took the challenge to adopt a disability for two hours.
After her experience last year in a wheelchair, Emily Mecham, a junior from South Jordan studying recreational management and youth leadership, decided to volunteer again. This time she tried using crutches.
“It’s harder than you could ever imagine,” she said. “I got across Brigham Square and I was like, I can’t go on anymore. It’s so hard.”
Accessibility Awareness Week, which took place on campus last week, gave students the opportunity to experience visual, physical or hearing impairments. They could get wheelchairs or crutches and see the difficulty of getting to their classes with limited mobility. They could wear tunnel vision glasses and go to class without being able to see the professor.
Michael Brooks, director of the University Accessibility Center in the WSC, said the main goal of Awareness Week is to encourage students to empathize with disabled students on campus.
Grace Fuller, an event specialist who helped plan awareness week, said nearly 200 students participate in the challenge each year.
“It helps students get a better perspective of what it’s like to have a disability,” she said. “They will be able to realize someone lives with this every day.”
Students can volunteer through the center. For instance, students with vision disabilities need note takers in their classes to help them.
But the week was also about making people with disabilities aware of the University Accessibility Center. Brooks said approximately 700 students take advantage of the services offered by the university. Brooks estimates there are probably double that number who could use the UAC but do not.
“The UAC focuses on classroom experience. when a student is involved in a class, during a lecture, taking a test or going on field trips, they would have an equal chance of participation,” Brooks said.
The center has ASL interpreters, transcription services; they provide audio books and put books in Braille.
Kayla Simon, a freshman from Canaseraga, N.Y., studying sociocultural anthropology, also volunteered. She took on a hearing impairment during her New Testament class.
“It was surprisingly difficult without being about to hear the professor,” she said. “I found it very easy to get distracted because I could just daze off in my own little world.”
At one point, she had to ask for directions without speaking so she used her cellphone to type out her question.
“I was surprised to see how willing people on campus are to help you,” Simon said of students on campus.
Cassi Lee, a freshman elementary education major from Battle Ground, Wash., also participated in the challenge. Having family members with disabilities and having a visual impairment herself, the experience hit a little closer to home.
“It is important not to underestimate peoples’ abilities or judge people,” Lee said. “We forget so often that … we can’t always see [the disabilities].”
Brooks agreed, saying four out five students have invisible disabilities. That can make it hard for people to have empathy when they cannot see physical manifestations of a disability.