Dr. Carolyn Lewis Reflects On Challenged By Choice Event

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If you are “able-bodied” or without impairments, how would you like to roll a mile or for a while in my wheel chair? Wear a blind fold to perform regular routines? Use plugs to deafen or eliminate sounds in your ears? Hear sounds in your head that others do not hear? Endure “invisible” disabilities which are called into question because you do not use a cane, walker, or a wheel chair? You would quickly learn, as I have, the difficulties of negotiating when there are barriers – whether to structures, programs, technology, or services.

Each year, representatives from the community and the university take on many of the above disabilities for five hours in an event called “Challenged by Choice.” Now, an afternoon is nothing compared with an extended period or a lifetime of struggle with a disability. But these courageous individuals receive their disability and return to their place of work, home, or class to simulate that disability.

Last month 15 participants, including students from Dr. Jenny Nelson’s Media Arts and Studies Research and Methods class in the Scripps College of Communication, took part in “Challenged by Choice.” This awareness effort turns the spotlight on disability issues – things that most people never notice. I am always amazed when I’m told, “I know how it is to be in a wheel chair. I broke my leg and was in one for six weeks.” Or, “My mother uses a walker, so I know what you go through.” Really? Unless you, yourself, have a lifelong disability, it’s difficult to fully understand another’s plight.

Although not the end all, “Challenged by Choice” has been a great vehicle for key people to experience – albeit for a short period – how it is to live with an impairment – how it is to be the “other.” During the evening, when the challenges have been completed, the participants meet at the Athens Community Center to share their experiences. The stories are moving, emotional, and eye-opening. One student said, “I became depressed hearing those voices in my head. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t study. I couldn’t do anything.”

We are grateful to all who participated in order to better educate themselves and others on the reality of living and working with a disability. The Athens City Commission on Disabilities has sponsored “Challenged by Choice” for four years and, each year, the participation grows. It is an opportunity for all persons to join in and understand how to better support those with disabilities through services and advocacy. Removing barriers and making Athens welcoming, and accessible, to people with disabilities is a goal. More cities and organizations should think about how to get citizens involved in such an activity. We are fortunate because of the city-university partnership in participation and the resources on which we can draw. As we put forth efforts every day to bring about change, I welcome you to join in the conversation. I invite you to get involved.

Carolyn Bailey Lewis, Ph.D. is a member of the Athens City Commission on Disabilities and the Ohio University Presidential Advisory Council on Disability and Accessibility Planning. She serves on the faculty of the Scripps College of Communication and is Director and General Manager Emerita, WOUB Public Media.