The Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities and Disability Services for Students believes that engaging the student body in discussion about students with disabilities can be a beneficial experience to all.
The commission is working to make the campus experience more accessible and manageable for all residents of the university. A panel of students with varying disabilities was held on Wednesday in the MUB to discuss these issues.
“Last winter was a real challenge,” said Georgia Kerns, co-chair of the commission, about the difficulty people with mobility issues had as a result of the storms last winter.
According to Kerns, students who needed personal care attendants to get out of bed and to get food were stranded in their dorm rooms because the personal care attendants could not get to them.
“They couldn’t eat, they couldn’t get out of bed, they couldn’t shower, they couldn’t get dressed because they need someone to help them do that,” said Kerns.
The commission worked with the campus police to design a plan for these situations. In the event of a snow storm the campus police will escort the personal care attendants to the individuals who need personal care. However, according to Kerns, this winter did not have adequate snow fall for the plan to be properly tested.
Not every problem associated with disabilities is so obvious. Some students have conditions that you wouldn’t know they had by looking at them. The panel on Wednesday also discussed, at length, these invisible obstacles.
“I had to learn how I function,” says Lea Macheras whose conditions make it hard for her to learn and to focus. Macheras spoke about the struggles of adapting to the college pace.
“It was very easy when I was younger to play into the disability thing. It’s cool because now I see it as, it’s just a difference, it’s just a learning difference,” said Macheras adding, “I just have to find out how I’m different, how to accommodate myself and to not quit.”
Macheras explained that when she decided to look for assistance the university was able to help her. Weekly planners and different test taking systems have helped her to feel on track and successful.
Panel speaker Christopher DePierto suffered a traumatic car crash that left his brain without oxygen for nine minutes. DePierto discussed what it’s like to recover from that accident and how it has affected his learning.
“As I am coming out of this iceberg state, my brain is thawing and I am becoming a person again,” said DePierto.
DePierto also spoke on what it was like deciding his path in life after the accident.
“I am struggling between two parts of me, one that says ‘Do this, it’s what you want to do’ and the other part that says ‘Do what you have been genetically pre-disposed to do’,” said DePierto.
Dave Zamansky, the assistant director of the MUB, was given the 2016 UNH President’s Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities Award for his efforts in making the campus a more comfortable and accessible place for all.
The panel also included Rebecca Robichaud who has chronic pain and Kevin Ennis who has mobility issues because of his condition. Both students acknowledged the accommodations that the university has made available.
The panel members’ individual conditions were not discussed at length. Instead, the panel discussed how they have personally coped and how the university has given them the opportunity to learn.