For Daman Wandke, being talked down to is an everyday experience. Not only does his scooter put him below eye level, but people wrongly assume that all individuals with physical disabilities have difficulty understanding.
What they wouldn't know, is Wandke, a freshman, was a national disabilities advocate in high school and is the president and founder of Western's own Students for Disabilities Awareness, an AS Club.
“When I came here, I saw that we needed some awareness and accessibility,” he said. “And I thought starting the club would be the best way of doing that.”
Students for Disability Awareness held their first large event, an ice cream social, last Wednesday.
“People seemed really interested,” said Kayla Britt, AS vice president for diversity. Approximately 24 people attended beside regular members, she said.
Brittany Otter, the club's vice president, said the social was intended to raise awareness about the club and gain some general members.
Otter, a freshman, became involved when Wandke, her neighbor in Edens Hall, approached her about the club the first day of moving in.
The club consists of a board, committees and general members. The board makes decisions for the club, and general members attend events and help out. Before the social the club had four active board members and eight general members, Otter said.
“One of our major objectives is to breakdown stereotypes and raise awareness,” she said. “Like having people think about what it would be like if they need to use an elevator everyday.”
When Wandke wanted to run for Associated Student Body president at Klahowya Secondary School in Silver Dale, a student asked if that was possible for someone with a disability, he said.
“That made me realize a lot of people were not aware of what a disability means,” Wandke said.
Wandke ran, and became vice president and by the time he graduated high school he was active ASB president.
One misconception is that disabilities are not just mental or physical, Otter said. She recently learned that alcoholism is considered a disability, she said.
Otter said she has mild cerebral palsy, which isn't readily visible, but does affect her range of motion.
“Personally I walk the line with disability, because people can't see it,” she said.
It is normally only noticeable when people ask her to race and she can't, she said.
Most people don't realize how diverse disabilities are, Britt said. For example, students who have test anxiety go to disAbilities Resources to make testing arrangements, she said.
Britt has been working Students for Disability Awareness since Summerstart, when she first met Wandke.
He told her about his interest in creating the club, and she gave him contacts to get started, she said.
After Britt first met with Wandke, she began to talk to groups on campus who already dealt with disability issues.
Her talks with David Brunnemer, director of disAbilities Resources, have stuck with her, she said.
“I asked, ‘Do you get a lot of support from students?'” she said. “He said some years they talk to us and support us, other years they kind of forget about us.”
Britt said she was surprised by his answer.
“It makes me sad that they get swept under the rug,” she said. “There are so many underrepresented groups on campus it is hard to address them all.”
According to Britt, there is a generally liberal atmosphere on campus.
“At Western there is a widespread tolerance of diversity, but a lack of knowledge,” she said. “Diversity is endless.”
Britt said there are already groups representing sexuality and race, but she hasn't heard of another student group at Western that specifically addressed disability issues.
“People will go to a mountain top and talk about their sexual orientation or race and ethnicity, but no one does that with disabilities,” she said.
In the 80s diversity was fad, and universities across the country focused on improving access to resources for underrepresented groups and that is when the Ethnic Student Center was created and Western even had a diversity publication, she said. But, things died down in the 90s.
“A lot of things have been put on the back burner and it is time to bring them forward again,” she said.
The Students for Disability Awareness Club is planning a disabilities awareness week for spring quarter, Britt said.
Students for Disabilities Awareness hopes the week will include may include guest speakers such as Josh Blue, the winner of “Last Comic Standing,” who has cerebral palsy, Otter said.