Updated Fri, Dec 6, 2013 3:13 pm
By Beth Mishler
On Tuesday, Dec. 3, from 4-8 p.m., students and community members alike gathered at Grover Center to celebrate and recognize International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD). IDPD has been celebrated worldwide since 1992, but this was the first time it was celebrated at Ohio University.
The IDPD event at OU was the brainchild of a class it has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of. Led by Dr. Jenny Nelson, our MDIA 6082 class, full of students who are majoring in various media arts and studies programs, is one of the most interesting and eclectic groups of people I’ve encountered in my 12 years in Athens.
I couldn’t list all the different countries my classmates are from on both hands, but the list includes Egypt, China, Russia, Sierra Leone, Korea, and Syria. I recall feeling the strong sense that OU lacked diversity while I was completing my undergraduate degrees here a few years back. I remember looking around the room during film class, or creative writing class, and noting that every face looked very similar and, especially in my media production classes, females like myself were scarce. So when I walked into the research–based media studies class led by Dr. Nelson, and I saw and heard all these wonderful faces and voices that were new and different, I knew my experiences were about to be new and different, as well. And they were from the first day on, when Dr. Nelson suggested we burn the syllabus, and we began researching an event we knew nothing about.
The event turned out to be ‘Challenged by Choice,’ in which people take on certain aspects of specific disabilities in order to better comprehend the issues people living with disabilities face. My classmates and I were very moved by the experience, and we began researching various aspects of disability as a class. Our research has spanned the entire semester, and we’ve studied everything from the representations of persons with disabilities on television, to the ways in which the arts are used as a means of therapy and/or expression by people living with disabilities. When our classmate Sergina Fnu told us all about IDPD, we decided to plan our own event for that day. We had NO CLUE how difficult this would be, but with a class full of interesting people with important stories to tell, we had to try.
The actual IDPD event went off with a few bumps and hitches, but was considered a success by the great majority of those in attendance. There were informational booths and displays from both student and local organizations, stirring speeches from Peggy Gish, William Peacock, and Darrell Purdy, and a very moving international student panel in which students shared their experiences as to what life with a disability is like in other countries. Additionally, there was a silent auction that made over $200 for Community Food Initiatives.
There was also the realization that it’s near impossible to be 100% truly inclusive. Dr. Nelson noted that two hours before the IDPD event began, her colleague asked her if there would be a sign-language interpreter there for his deaf friends. We face-palmed—we hadn’t even thought of that! When she found out that we must pay someone to come down from Columbus ($300 per hour) it was a lesson in humility and thoroughness, and a reminder that planning and putting on events ain’t easy by any means!
We were assisted in planning the event by members of the Athens Commission on Disabilities, led by the ever-kind and helpful Larry Jageman, who also spoke at theIDPD event. We are grateful both for the guidance given by the commission—we surely needed it—as well as for the (very) few members who voiced trepidation about working with students and who suggested the commission not spend their time working on student-centered projects. These voices of dissention made us think, united us further, and have only made us more determined. Many students from the class and myself have formed our own student organization that will focus on issues relating to campus accessibility and raising awareness about issues persons with disabilities face on a local—and global--level.
While I don’t have a disability, my mother does, I have friends, classmates, and professors who do—and I recognize that I could join them at any time. There were a lot of things I didn’t think about before I took Dr. Nelson’s class. Now, there are plenty of things I’ll neither forget nor overlook again. And for that, I’m grateful.