Invisible disabilities: Community dinner explores disabilities and fighting prejudice on campus

Samantha Ruvolo, Contributing Writer

The University Office of Accessibility Resources hosted a community dinner on Feb. 21 entitled “Disability: The Invisible Identity.” The Walls Lounge of the Langone Center was filled to capacity with both students and faculty, with a waitlist of people eager to attend. According to the event description provided by the University, the goal of the dinner was to “hear about the personal experiences of students, staff and faculty who navigate their personal, professional and academic lives in different ways than most.”

The four students who organized the dinner, Cristal Hermosillo ’17, Joelle Andres-Beck ’20, Julia Friedman ’17, and Madeleine Liotta ’18, began by introducing the issues that would be addressed during the dinner. The facilitators asked those in attendance to allow themselves to be vulnerable when divulging and discussing their personal disabilities or those of others.

Once these introductions were complete, pre-recorded, anonymous student testimonials accompanied by their written counterparts were played on the many screens in the lounge. In the testimonials, students explained their disabilities and the struggles they face at the University; the disabilities included dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, visual impairments, hearing impairments, autism, chronic vascular insufficiency, and PTSD.

The struggles faced by these students impact them socially, educationally, and physically in their everyday lives on campus. According to the featured students, the medication that help to combat these disabilities cause side effects which are often overwhelming, such as loss of appetite and migraines.

Director of the Office of Accessibility Resources Heather Fowler believed that the dinner was successful in starting discussions about disabilities on campus.

“I think that this Community Dinner was helpful in bringing to light some of the difficulties that our own Bucknell students experience that I don’t think many people even realized. I think it made some people become more reflective of how much influence they might have on first impressions as well as realizing their own implicit biases,” Fowler said.

Many of the students also mentioned that they felt victimized by their professors, who they said would undermine their special needs or would not be accommodating. For instance, students with arthritis require computer privileges or a designated scribe to take notes for them, since they are unable to write or type fast enough to keep up with the class. The slideshow also focused on how other students are not always sympathetic and patient, making jokes without fully understanding that person’s situation or causing someone to feel excluded because of their disability.

After the presentation, the leaders of the event encouraged each table to discuss what they found most shocking about the personal stories, and how their own personal biases might affect the University community. One group opened up about students missing class and meals because of chronic pain. Other participants mentioned how the University is not physically structured for disabled people, with numerous hills and buildings having limited accessibility.

The event was an informative glimpse into the ways in which students with disabilities are forced to live on campus, as well as how members of the community tend to forget both the commonality and severity of invisible disabilities.

“Our goal was to challenge attendees to examine their own internal discomforts and biases (whether positive or negative) about people with disabilities,” Andres-Beck said.

Hermosillo expressed her gratitude for the event.

“We were able to clearly hear the voices of Bucknell students with disability with the audio recordings, dive deeper into people’s stories with the case studies and begin that conversation about how to move forward now that we have some ideas,” Hermosillo said.

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