Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

It took hard work, tenacity, and a little patience, but the Disability Outreach Center has finally become a reality.

Located on the fifth floor of the Viking Union along with other Resource and Outreach Programs such as the Sexual Awareness Center and the Social Issues Resource Center, the DOC aims to be a resource for all disability-related issues.

Brittany Otter, ROP director and one of the founding members of the DOC, said that students with disabilities are welcome to take advantage of all the center has to offer, which will include a resource library of books, pamphlets and movies.
The center will also be a news hub offering the latest in current local, national and global news concerning people with disabilities. Referrals to organizations where students can find information on specific disabilities will be provided, and a wealth of information will be available to help students become active with other disability-related groups on campus.

Best of all, the center’s resources will be available to anyone, whether they have a disability or not.

“We want whoever comes in to feel welcome,” said Otter. “It’s for anyone who wants to learn about disabilities, you don’t even have to disclose that you have one.”

Angelia D’Elia, the DOC coordinator, said the center’s first outreach program will be a cupcake decorating event Oct. 4. Each participant will have a temporary “disability” while decorating cupcakes, such as wearing earplugs while a partner tells them how to decorate, or trying to decorate with their non-dominant hand. The idea is to show people without disabilities what living with one can be like, she said.

D’Elia also plans on reaching out to students with depression or anxiety disorders.  She said that both conditions are commonly overlooked and not considered disabilities, even though they are very real mental disorders that college students often experience. She plans to host a panel on the topic and invite students to share their experiences with the disorders. Staff from the Student Health Center will be present to talk about preventative measures and answer student questions.

Otter originally spearheaded the movement towards creating a safe place for those with disabilities. Otter has mild cerebral palsy, and when she came to Western as a freshman in 2007, she didn’t feel comfortable discussing her disability with anyone.

“When I was younger, there was a long list of things I couldn’t do,” she said. “It taught me to be ashamed.”
Otter said that before the DOC, the Students for disAbility Awareness club was the primary place for students with disabilities to connect with one another. She founded the club with Daman Wandke, who also has cerebral palsy. The club hosted social events, promoted discussions and created a DisAbility Awareness Week that happens once a year.

The week included information, activities, food and prizes to promote acceptance of disabilities both seen and unseen.
As the club became increasingly active on campus, Otter wanted a more long-term, organized group to spread information and make people with disabilities on campus feel welcome.

She said the idea to create an ROP office specifically catering towards those with disabilities was met with enthusiasm by faculty and students. Unlike the SDA, the DOC will have funding available to hold more events like DisAbility Awareness Week that encourage acceptance and promote disability discussion.

“The issue of students with disabilities and the idea that we now have a center is huge,” said Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, Western’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator and vice provost of equal opportunity and employment diversity. “The students made this happen.”

The Disability Outreach Center is a part of the Resources and Outreach Programs, located in VU room 528. For more information, call the DOC office at 360-650-6116.