On March 9, 2005 disability awareness was everywhere at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Access For All, the only student organization on campus that promotes disability awareness, sponsored a one of a kind event in the Kirby Ballroom. Students, faculty, and community members were invited to attend a Disability Crash Course. This all day event offered the Duluth community the chance to gather information about different disabilities, hear special speaker presentations, and participate in simulations.
This year the Crash Course was proud to have presenters from Canine Companions for Independence, Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, University of MN-Duluth Communication Disorders Department, and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. There were also tables with information and technology for Autism Spectrum Disorders and Learning Disability.
Crash Course visitors were invited to participate in an “unfair spelling test” where they experienced what it might be like to have a moderate, mild, or severe hearing loss. Lastly, the Crash Course offered an inside look at what traveling around the UMD. campus in a wheelchair is all about. Visitors got the chance to traverse the campus in wheelchairs borrowed from Courage Duluth.
A door prize raffle, a free pizza lunch during a special Canine Companions presentation, and the promise of extra credit for class brought in students by the handful. Others attended just to ask questions and see what’s new in the world of disability. Attendance for the event doubled from 150 in 2004 to 300 this year.
Next year Access For All will have the goal of increasing attendance yet again. This will mean adding new presenters, finding more simulations, and offering more free food for those poor starving students. As the student coordinator of Access For All I can say that my main goal for the Crash Course is for visitors to walk in with questions and walk out with an open mind. All it takes is one group, like Access For All, to make a huge difference on a campus of 10,000 people in a city of 80,000 people. 300 people left our event with a better picture of what disability culture is all about. That’s a great start. Now we just have to reach the other 79,700.
Traci Ohlenkamp is the Student Coordinator of Access For All at the University of Minnesota Duluth.