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Monday, July 6, 2020

Disability Awareness Week encourages conversations

This week marked the eighth annual Disability Awareness Week held by the AS Disability Outreach Center.

Mirabelle Blech, coordinator for the center, said the week created a chance for students and members of the community to come together and have conversations they normally wouldn’t have about disabilities and the issues facing students that experience them.

“Until spaces are created where people are willing to talk about disability, or anything having to do with marginalized identity, they won’t,” Blech said. “There’s so much stigma around disability.”

Blech said awareness is necessary both because of the lack of services available to students and underuse of the services that do exist.

According to the US Census Bureau, almost one in five American adults have a disability. Only about 700 of 15,000 students use disability services at Western, meaning that there are potentially thousands of disabled students receiving no assistance from the university, Blech said.

Part of the reason so few students use services, Blech said, is the university’s failure to adequately provide them.

“[Western] doesn’t have enough of the resources to be able to take care of everything,” Blech said. “This very specific, very important service, isn’t able to fulfill the needs of students right on this campus.”

Disability Awareness Week stretched five events over four days, beginning Monday, May 11, and culminating on Thursday, May 14, with a headlining performance in Old Main Theater.

The first event was a workshop entitled Disability 101 which was organized by Blech, disability-activist Kyan Furlong and Western Professor James Fortney.

The workshop started with a discussion led by Professor Fortney and concluded with a game in which participants connected seemingly separate issues related to various disabilities and attempted to create solutions.

Tuesday’s event began with a speech by University of Washington Disability Studies Program Director José Alaniz about his book “Death, Disability, and the Superhero: The Silver Age and Beyond.”

Also on Tuesday was an art-therapy social event in which participants received a free journal and learned about the benefits of self-therapy through art and journaling. Students did not have to identify as being disabled to attend, Blech said.

“You could just be stressed out because it’s week seven of the quarter,” Blech said. “We want everyone to be involved in this.”

Wednesday evening, local band Out of The Ashes performed at Fraser Hall. Out of the Ashes is a group led by Jon Dalgarn and consists mostly of teens and adults who identify as developmentally disabled.

Apart from playing music almost his entire life, Dalgarn works in human services and said the the idea for starting the band came to him after he played music at the center for disabled individuals he worked at.

Dalgarn said he immediately saw a raw reaction in the kids, something that was rare for children who have been diagnosed as being non-verbal and have very few activities they can participate in.

Soon he introduced rhythm instruments and microphones.

“When that happened, it just blew the doors off,” Dalgarn said. “Mom and dad who never thought Tommy was going to have anything, now they’re in a band.”

Disability Awareness Week concluded on Thursday evening with its largest event, a performance by nationally recognized poet Clementine von Radics.

Radics, who deals with chronic pain, read several pieces from her various books and answered questions from the audience on topics ranging from her international success to managing life with chronic illness.

Radics touched on the idea that stimulating conversation of disability in society and removing stigma is an important part of tackling issues pertaining to people who deal with disability.

“A lot of the barriers for disabled people are not about their bodies but about societal restrictions,” Radics said. “Removing the stigma of disability can make a lot of the things that significantly change how difficult it is to be disabled.”

The Disability Outreach Center is located in the Viking Union 513 and anyone who is interested, identifying as disabled or not, is encouraged to stop in.

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