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“Just Talk to People Like They are Human, Don’t Assume For Them” UNC-Pembroke Discusses Life With Disabilities

The Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) and Campus Engagement and Leadership (CEL) held their biweekly intersectionality dialogue series, “I’m Just in it for the Parking” from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in UC room 208 on Oct. 17.


The discussion was hosted by Robert Canida, director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Mary Zets, biology professor and Dr. Velinda Woriax, chair in the biology department.


The discussion started both of the speakers talking about the difficulties that they faced on campus while being in a wheelchair.


Zets was trying to get into Oxendine but someone had their bike parked in the middle of the ramp so she couldn’t get through to get inside the building.


One student said they were taking their dad to Walmart and was trying to get him a motorized shopping cart but some kids were riding on them.


They felt it was difficult to determine whether the kids were just playing on them or they had disabilities themselves. It was hard to determine and they really needed the motorized shopping cart.


Zets even saw someone with a Disabled Parking sticker taking up two parking spaces.


They both spoke about the lack of accessibility that they found throughout their time being in wheelchairs.

 

Woriax was going to a professional meeting and she explained to them that she was in a wheelchair and why so that there would be a good amount of preparation before she got there.

 

On her flight, there were three other people who needed wheelchair assistance so Woriax let the flight attendants tend to the others first. When she got off of her flight she had trouble carrying her luggage and no one from the airport assisted her.


“There are a lot of people working at the airport but they’re not looking to help you because they are doing other things,” she said. “Most of the time the airlines don’t really have people on board to help folks that are in my situation.”


When Woriax arrived at her hotel, she knew there wasn’t a shuttle. Although she was concerned about how she was going to travel, the people at the hotel were there to help her.
 

“I was fortunate that there were people in the hotel that were willing to take me down where I needed to go,” Woriax said.
 

The hotel she stayed at was very old and historical so it was hard for her to get through her door in a wheelchair even though the room was accessible for people with disabilities.


She also learned that her meeting was half a mile from the building which meant having to navigate through the traffic by using the sidewalk and road.


They also discussed how sometimes when people see someone with a physical disability they tend to think that they have a mental disability too.

 

Instead of asking how can they help that person with the disability they assume and attempt to help not knowing they could be doing more harm than good.
 

Woriax spoke about making accommodations with the labs that are on campus to make them more wheelchair accessible.


“Sometimes I would have to ask my students nicely can they move a little or move their bookbags so that I can have to room to move and help them,” she said.


Zets even shared about people rushing to help her without really asking.

 

Sometimes people rush in assuming that a person with a disability needs help. Even though it is nice for people to help. sometimes it does more harm than good when some people jump in to help instead asking the person if they need it.


“Just talk to people like they are human,” she said. “Ask them, don’t assume for them.”


Discussion picked up with most of the students agreeing that there needs to be an accommodation for people with disabilities.


One student said talking to the next generation is very important for them to understand that people are still people. From some of their family members being disabled, Zets gives them her opinion on how to help accommodate.


Zets is a supporter of universal design and believes people should focus on a more universal design for teacher building and classrooms.

 

For example, having more ramps so that everyone can walk on it because most students who are not disabled still walk on the ramps. Building wider doorways can help everyone be able to get into different rooms.


The students at the discussion learned that some generations used different terms when describing someone who is disabled.

 

The two special guests, Director of the Accessibility Resource Center, Nicolette Campos and Assistant Director of the Accessibility Resource Center, Vanessa Hawes suggested to students to use the statement “a person with a disability” when referring to anyone who is disabled.


Towards the end of the discussion, Zets spoke with the students about some people who fear using certain accessibilities.

 

Some are afraid of how their family will react to them using crutches or a wheelchair. While others are scared of doing job interviews because they fear they won’t get the job with a disability.

 

Zets had some encouraging words for the people who have a disability and are afraid to use their accessibilities.


“Just because your body works differently doesn’t mean you can’t do the same things as other people,” she said.


The discussion concluded with Zets showing a video of her jumping out of a plane on her birthday.

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