Disability Awareness Week hopes to increase love for others

Volunteers for Adaptive Aquatics play with children who have special needs in the Richards Building swimming pool. The program meets on Thursdays and Fridays. (Y-Serve)

The University Accessibility Center will host BYU’s annual Disability Awareness Week from Oct. 24 to 28. Each day will involve a different lecture, forum or activity to increase awareness about disabilities.

University Accessibility Center director GeriLynn Vorkink said the week will also increase compassion among the BYU community.

“It is designed to assist attendees in gaining a new perspective of the challenges faced by people with disabilities,” Vorkink said, “and a greater appreciation for the potential those with disabilities have to lead productive, successful lives.”

Vorkink said Disability Awareness Week is important because it also helps students become aware of their own needs.

“Every year we have some BYU students and other attendees who gain an awareness of their own disability as a result of attending Disability Awareness Week events,” she said.

The activities will include a lecture about depression, a disability etiquette panel, a movie, a lecture about anxiety and a volunteer opportunity. Vorkink said the events are designed to be relatively short so busy students and faculty can participate.

The week’s first event is a lecture about depression and how it affects students. Depression is the most common health problem for college students, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Jon Cox, BYU assistant professor and clinical psychologist, will speak about recognizing and managing symptoms of depression. This event will take place in the Wilkinson Student Center on Monday, Oct. 24. There will also be a lecture on anxiety and panic on Thursday, Oct. 27, delivered by assistant professor and clinical psychologist Russ Bailey.

Tuesday’s event will be a panel featuring several students with disabilities. Attendees can ask questions and discuss ways to improve their relationships with people who have disabilities.

Valerie Shewfelt, mentoring coordinator in the University Accessibility Center, said there is much to learn from people with different lives.

“We hope that students will be uplifted and motivated by those dealing with disabilities,” Shewfelt said. “(The events) should broaden their horizons.”

The Accessibility Center will screen “Finding Nemo” on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The film will include closed captioning and audio descriptive narrative for individuals who are visually impaired or have experienced hearing loss.

The week will end Friday, Oct. 28, with an Adaptive Aquatics event, where volunteers will swim and play gym games with children who have special needs. The event will go from 11 a.m. to noon in the Richards Building pool.

Bryan Witt, Adaptive Aquatics program director, said many people have already signed up to help with the event, but they always welcome more volunteers. The program, which meets on Thursdays and Fridays, is a great service opportunity, Witt said.

“It’s a fun, easy way to serve,” Witt said. “The kids are really amazing.”

Vorkink said she believes it is important for everyone to learn about disabilities.

“Spending time around people with disabilities and learning from them can help us get over our discomfort, so that we are free to get to know them and to build relationships with some really amazing people,” Vorkink said.

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