What BYU students living with disabilities want you to know

Panel member Wills Cole addresses the audience. The panel members from left to right: Dallin Gardner, Wills Cole, Jacob Reeves, Sariah Broadbent and Natalie Daines. (Image courtesy of Dallin Gardner)

BYU students presented a disabilities panel on March 12 to answer questions about disabilities and inform students and staff about how to be more inclusive. 

Each student on the panel introduced themselves and a little bit about their experience living with their particular disability, after which the audience addressed questions to the panel.

Dallin Gardner, an accounting student who is hard-of-hearing, said it can be difficult to understand what is happening when multiple people are talking at once or aren’t speaking while facing him. Making eye contact can make a big difference.

When working on a group project, he said he appreciates when other students check with him before moving on.

He explained the difference between cochlear implants and hearing aids, as well as other etiquette tips when interacting with individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Not all hard-of-hearing people know sign language, and speaking louder does help, but making sure to enunciate and speak clearly is just as important, Gardner said.

The panel was asked if they ever feel guilty or tired of asking for accommodations.

Dallin Gardner addresses the audiences at the disabilities panel. Each of the panelists took a turn to educate about their disability. (Image courtesy of Dallin Gardner)

Natalie Daines, a statistics student with ARFID and autism, said she did. Sometimes she feels silly saying music is too loud or asking about what food will be at an event, she said.

Gardner said asking for accommodations can be inconvenient or awkward. If a video is shown during class he can’t really ask the teacher to turn on the captions once it has already started.

“None of us want to be a burden, but to be honest, we can’t be as effective learners without some of these accommodations,” Gardner said.

When asked what needs to change at BYU, panel members agreed students and faculty can try to be more comfortable talking about disabilities with the students who have them.

“I don’t get offended being asked what I can and cannot see or what my capabilities are,” Jacob Reeves, who is a senior in the accounting program and is legally blind, said. “It’s just nice when they come to me first.”

Reeves gave an example of how one professor anticipated how a visual aspect of class might be challenging for Reeves to follow along with and arranged for a TA to sit next to him and help.

Daines said she would appreciate a greater feeling of acceptance of those who are different.

Wills Cole, a student with a spinal cord injury, advocated for accessibility. “Just ask if I need help. Sometimes I will, sometimes I won’t,” he said.

The panel was asked what life lessons their disability has taught them.

“Patience — what a great virtue to have,” Reeves said. Growing up was frustrating because he was competitive, he said. Scheduling and organizing transportation from others because he can’t drive is also frustrating.

Panelist Sariah Broadbent educates the audience on her experience living with Type 1 Diabetes. Each of the panel members shared their own unique perspective. (Image courtesy of Dallin Gardner)

Reeves said he has come to understand what his limitations are, “but I know I’m capable and it takes me extra time, is all.”

Cole echoed the idea of learning patience. He has had to learn a new way of life in the past six years, using a wheelchair to get around. He said he still has a lot of gratitude.

“Learning to really be comfortable with who I am has kind of helped me cope with things,” Daines said.

Daines said she just needs to be aware of her needs. She knows she needs time to process things, and she needs to take breaks and be active while working.

Another lesson learned was empathy, Sariah Broadbent and Gardner said.

Gardner shared an experience he had with Cole in a class they had together. There was a day when the elevator in the Thomas L. Martin Building wasn’t working and their classroom was on the second floor.

Knowing he didn’t like being left out because of his disability, Gardner, with the help of the class TA, carried Cole up the stairs to their classroom.

If Cole had wanted to skip class that day he would have had a perfectly legitimate excuse, Gardner said. But he felt a responsibility to help Cole be included, because he knows how it feels when you’re not.

“Most of us — most people with disabilities — are willing and excited to talk about it,” Gardner said. “I know it’s an awkward thing to ask someone about that but I think we all get excited when we have an opportunity to answer questions about it.”

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