The Athens Community Experiences ‘Challenges’

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The Athens community learned Thursday what it’s like to live with a disability at the Athens City Commission on Disabilities' fourth annual “Challenged by Choice” program. About 15 people experienced simulated disabilities for a half day.

“These are the kind of tough disabilities that are not so visible as a person in a wheelchair or using a cane or is blind and has an eye patch or dark glasses,” said Larry Jageman, co-chair of the program.

He explained that it is more awkward for those with hidden disabilities because people expect them to be able to do everything a person without a disability can.

Ohio University graduate students from Jenny Nelson’s "Research Methods and Communications" class took part. One student experienced schizophrenia by listening to a taped headset recording for the entire simulation.

“It’s just like hearing voices in my head,” OU student Natalia Buitrago said while wearing the headset. “Many voices are coming from one side and the other side and actually, I’m freaking out.”

Jessica Gonzalez, also an OU student, experienced the limited mobility that comes with Parkinson’s disease. The simulation was created by attaching weights to her feet and wrist.

“I feel like I’m trapped here and that I’m not myself because I speak a lot with my hands, but I’m feeling this weight and I cannot even go onto stairs,” she said.

She says the experience taught her a lot.

“It’s hard because when people don’t see what you’re suffering with they can be really mean, and that applies to me, in fact,” she said. “I might be one of those persons. I might have acted that way at some point.”

Other disabilities included diabetes and cognitive delay, as well as various communication disorders and mental illnesses.

“As we learn more about them we can be more accepting and encouraging. Instead of avoiding somebody, hopefully we can talk to them as equals and learn to reach out and be friends to each other,” Jageman said.

Later in the day, a “Disabilities Speak” event was held at the Athens Community Center, where participants spoke about their experience.