If there was one thing organizers of Wednesday’s Accessibility Fair were trying to instill in participants, it was to not be afraid to ask about disabilities.
“A lot of times, people want to know,” MU Student Exceptions President Allison Reinhart said. “But they’re afraid to ask.”
That was the purpose of Wednesday’s event, she said – to expose participants to life with a disability. Wheelchairs, black glasses and a power chair were available for any passersby to try. Senior Steven Denney, who helped organize the accessibility fair, said teaching people how to use a wheelchair is preparation for unexpected accidents.
“It’s fun for students, but it is also a public service,” Denney said. “You never know, one day you could be in a wheelchair because of a bike accident or car crash. I woke up seven years ago and couldn’t walk — I never thought that would happen.”
Sight Club President Gina Ceylan said many students wouldn’t be able to comprehend living without their eyesight, as she does. She said the event was important so students could realize that.
“I think it’s hard for people to sometimes imagine not being able to see everyday,” she said. “The unknown makes people nervous.”
Events such as the Accessibility Fair spark conversation, Denney said. Conversation is a goal of many of the One Mizzou Month events. Communication is important for developing unity between students with disabilities and the MU campus.
“People shouldn’t be scared of people with disabilities,” Denney said. “Include them in conversation, and invite them to join in activities. We are just like everyone else. We just have an accessory.”
It is also important to open lines of communication between students with disabilities and people who design MU’s facilities, participants said. That will be made much easier with this year’s creation of three student organizations catered toward students with disabilities.
“They haven’t contacted us in the past, but now they will,” Reinhart said. “That’s kind of one of the reasons we got together. They want questions answered, but there hasn’t really been a place to go.”
Denney said he hopes architects will consult with people who use wheelchairs before constructing buildings. Often times the architect has to go back and fix a building after it is built because it is not easily accessible, he said.
“People who make and design buildings have usually never been in a wheelchair, so they have no idea what it is like,” Denney said.
Organizers acknowledged the guidelines in place because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but they also said these laws don’t necessarily promise accessibility.
“There’s ADA regulations, but ADA doesn’t equal accessible,” Ceylan said. “It equals legal, but not necessarily accessible.”
As part of the event, Denney gave tours of campus locations difficult to access in a wheelchair.
“There is so much more here on campus that can be made accessible,” Denney said. “The ramp outside McDonald’s is a death ramp. Jesse Hall is also one of the most difficult buildings to access, and it is a necessary and important building for all students.”
They also said they would like to see accessibility awareness better incorporated into the classroom.
“A lot of teachers are just like, ‘Oh, Disability Services will take care of it,’” Ceylan said. “That isn’t the way we need to be thinking.”
The fair doesn’t complete MUSE’s activities for the year. Members of the group have already begun planning for Summer Welcome tabling and next October’s Celebrate Ability Week. Right now, there is a possibility the group might obtain Marlee Matlin, a prominent actress who is deaf, to speak as a keynote.
“We’re excited for the future,” Reinhart said.