The Daily Northwestern

Student panelists discuss challenges, experiences of disability

Matthew Choi, Assistant Campus Editor

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Disability is not antithetical to ability, said SESP sophomore Scott Gerson at a student panel on disability Monday.

The Student Panel on Disability, hosted by Gerson and SESP freshman Carrie Ingerman in University Hall, discussed the many ways disabilities can affect students’ lives. Panelists talked about the challenges of living with a disability and how their disabilities are part of their identity. AccessibleNU, Multicultural Student Affairs, Black Lives Matter NU and Eye to Eye NU co-sponsored the event.

Ingerman and Gerson announced at the event that they have been working to create a new student group called Beyond Compliance, which will act as a safe space and advocate for students with disabilities.

Panelists included SESP senior Yair Sakols, McCormick sophomore Bobbie Burgess and Communication junior Jessica Fang. Gerson, who has ADHD, moderated the discussion, which was followed by a Q&A with the audience of about 75 people.

Disabilities can have considerable consequences on school performance, Burgess said. Burgess has a learning disability that affects her reading and mathematical computation speed, she said. Taking tests or preparing material can take longer and it can be more difficult to organize thoughts during assessments, she said, prompting her to do extra practice problems.

“My brain is often like an unorganized clean-laundry basket,” Burgess said. “Everything is there, but I have to go digging through it sometimes to find the information I need and the more practice I have making the outfits, the better I’ll be on an exam.”

Navigating campus can also be affected by disabilities, Sakols said. Many structures on campus are not completely accommodating for people with disabilities, Sakols said.

Sakols has a chronic pain condition, which causes sporadic and unpredictable pain from his lower back to the base of his skull and can make certain tasks such as climbing stairs or walking to class difficult, he said.

“Locy, where I’ve had classes, doesn’t have even a ramp or an elevator,” Sakols said. “(In) the dining halls, holding a tray when you have a cane is a total pain. Just walking back and forth when there’s no means with someone with a disability to carry things, essentially you need two hands at this school to function properly.”

Despite the challenges, disability should not be a reason to pity, Fang said. Fang, who has ADHD, said her disability is more complex than the stereotypes make it out to be and can affect her concentration, memory and other thinking processes in multiple ways.

For example, although her ADHD can cause her to be distracted, it can also allow her to concentrate on a task for a long period of time if it really interests her, Fang said.

“It has nothing to do with how smart you are or how intelligent you are,” Fang said. “It’s just a different way of thinking.”

Despite these challenges, panelists praised the efforts of AccessibleNU in making NU more accommodating. Alison May, director of AccessibleNU and assistant dean of students, attended the event and said she admired the panelists for sharing their experiences and hoped the audience would engage more in the dialogue about disabilities after hearing them.

“I really liked the idea of a number of folks working together on this,” May told The Daily. “I hope (attendees now) will be comfortable about the things they don’t understand, asking some of these folks if they come across them is a safe space again and getting to talk.”

This story was updated at 8:40 p.m.

Email: matthewchoi2018@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @matthewchoi2018

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