Not all disabilities are physically visible, nor do they affect everyone the same way. Wednesday, March 1, in MUB Theater II, a group of three students with disabilities led a panel discussion titled “The UNH experience for students with disabilities.”
The panel discussion began with the distribution of the annual award from the UNH President’s Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. The award was given to the individuals who make sure all the pathways on campus are cleared from ice and snow that come with the frigid New Hampshire weather.
Next, the three student panelists took turns introducing themselves and spoke of how their lives are affected by their disability. The first student was social work major Rebecca Robichaud.
“I didn’t have a professor here at UNH tell me that I couldn’t do it,” Robichaud said when comparing her teachers and guidance counselors in high school to the faculty at UNH. She went on to inform the audience with a discussion on the condition she has: Fibro Adipose Vascular Anomaly (FAVA). The condition causes masses of tissues to grow in her leg. Robichaud described how she was bullied in school and had a hard time keeping up due to all the pain she was in and the surgeries she continuously has to have.
“Everyone has a disability in something,” the second student who spoke, Lea Macheras said. Like Robinchaud, Macheras said she also had a hard time in school. Lea, now a recreational therapy major, went to several high schools in Massachusetts where she said she was repeatedly told by teachers and other students that she wasn’t smart enough for school. She said it was actually the schools that were failing her.
“I had to learn how to transfer my physical flexibility into mental flexibility,” said the third panel member, psychology major Christopher Depietro. Unlike the other two student speakers, Depietro’s disability came later in life. At a young age, Depietro endured a traumatic brain injury. Prior to the injury, he was a runner and, overall a very active individual. He described to the crowd how his injury forced him to have to re-teach himself how to talk and walk and ultimately regain use of the right side of his body.
After introductions and descriptions as to how their lives are affected by their disability, the panel opened the room to questions from the audience. All their answers resonated from the same idea; make those with disabilities feel included in any situation. They stressed the sense that disabilities are simply one aspect of a person’s identity, and that no one can be defined by one characteristic.