Last month, “No Access” posters could be seen around the campus of Roseville’s Northwestern College, as part of their annual Disability Awareness week. The event, also known as DOSS (Disabilities Office for Social Services) week, provides a chance to organize and educate those both in and outside of the disability community at Northwestern. The focus of the week was hidden disabilities. Besides the poster campaign, students and staff also had the privilege of hearing more about Asperger’s syndrome from highlighted speakers John Ricker and Erika Hammerschmidt, who are a married couple both diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.
A key focus for organizers was highlighting hidden barriers around campus. In preparation for DOSS Week, we hung up “No Access” posters. These posters were put in different places around campus that students with physical handicaps are not able to use. This visibility campaign was powerful to many students on campus who had not thought about the access some students do not have. One student commented, “I am really glad you are putting these signs up. It really helps people understand and see the limitations on campus.”
The featured speakers brought a different sort of visibility to disability. Not knowing they had Asperger’s syndrome, one would have a hard time knowing it by looking at them and hearing them speak. Through hearing them speak, students learned that part of Asperger’s syndrome involves not understanding social cues and norms. Rather, people with Asperger’s syndrome have minds that work in extremely logical ways. Presenting it in that way helps to better understand Asperger’s syndrome. However, that is just part of Asperger’s syndrome; there are many more complexities included in the disorder. It was also fascinating to watch John and Ericka’s interactions, and how they balanced each other so well. They both have individual areas they excel in. For example, John is very interested in nanotechnology and understands math very well. Erika is good with English, especially writing, and is a published author.
Organizers Anna Boyer and Kendall Young were struck by the power of the week’s activities. “As the five of us were helping put together DOSS Week, we learned more than we could have imagined. We saw the world and specifically our college campus through the eyes of a person with a disability. We were able to learn more about hidden disabilities and Asperger’s syndrome by listening to the speakers and looking at the world through their eyes. Our eyes were opened, and we know that others were too because of DOSS Week. We are greatly appreciative of the opportunity that we had to participate in Disability Awareness week on campus. Our views on disabilities have been changed and we hope others have too.”
When asked about their motivation for this inclusion work, another organizer, Alyssa Klein, cited a passage in the Bible, which says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
“That is our goal,” Klein said, “that each of us, disabled or not, should be equal and a solid member of every community.”