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The Blue & Gray Press | October 17, 2017

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UMW community honors Disability Awareness Month

UMW community honors Disability Awareness Month

By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH & NEPHTHALIE LAUTURE

In an effort to raise awareness for people with disabilities, newly appointed Director of the Office of Disability Resources, Sandra Fritton, has begun to bring education regarding disabilities to the forefront of the University and the Fredericksburg community. As enrollment has increased, according to Fritton, it is particularly important we start creating an atmosphere of understanding and respect now more than ever.

“As our community grows,” Fritton said, “we will continually evolve and need ongoing improvements to promote inclusiveness. The ultimate goal is equal opportunity and mutual respect.”

Last week, the Office of Disability Resources made Campus Walk a place where students and faculty could write down their various strengths and weaknesses. The sign was meant to showcase one of the key themes for the month: perseverance. “Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and learning to build on strengths and work to improve weaknesses is a universal goal that everyone experiences,” as Fritton said.

University of Mary Washington student groups such as Talk to the Hands, a group that focuses on American Sign Language and the deaf community, and Diversability, have been one of the largest participants in the month-long event.

UMW’s Diversability, a group that includes students with all different forms of disabilities, will lead a Braille workshop from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Ball Circle on Tuesday, Oct. 27. The workshop will teach any student or teacher passing by how to write their name in Braille.

UMW Talk to the Hands will end the month with a screening of Nosferatu, the 1922 silent film taking place in the Hurley Convergence Center on Friday, Oct. 30. The event is meant to give students and faculty a pre-Halloween event that can be appreciate by people within the deaf community and outside of it.

Stephanie Buckler, junior and vice president of Talk to the Hands, said the collaboration between the Office of Disability Resources has been a positive experience and has high hopes for the silent film and the month’s overall goal for students, particularly to the deaf community. “I hope disabilities month brings awareness to not only the disability but that the deaf community doesn’t see deafness as a disability, just another thing that makes them different and adds diversity to the world,” Buckler said.

Interestingly, Disability Awareness Month is not limited to UMW, as it is an event that has been present in the state of Virginia since 2009. For, in 2009 the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution designating October as Disability Awareness month. The entire month of October is meant to especially encourage public schools and universities to promote disability awareness through varying programs and activities.

Among other events, Disability Awareness Month has also included the talk given by Dalton Herendeen, UMW assistant swim coach and U.S. Paralympian and a presentation given by Julia Bascom, assisted by Chris Foss, professor of English, and his FSEM class, which focuses on the autistic community.

All events were open to the UMW and Fredericksburg communities. According to Fritton, the events have been well received by people within and outside of the university. “Through awareness, a culture of mutual respect can be developed with equal opportunities for all students as a goal,” Fritton said.

The push for greater accessibility and awareness for students with disabilities is not only limited to this month, but a continuous effort by the university, which will result in greater physical and instructional changes in the future that will make the university an equal playing field for all students.