GW raises awareness about the disabled


Growing up in Asmeria, Ethiopia, was not easy for Yohannas Demoz. But at age 10, life suddenly got worse for the GW sophomore.

Amid the chaos of an Ethiopian civil war, Demoz was blinded after a bomb exploded in the local soccer field.

Christy Willis, director of Disabilities Support Services, said Demoz is one of more than 600 disabled students who make up GW1s student body. When Willis first came to the University in 1984, she said about 80 disabled students attended GW.

GW celebrated the accomplishments and contributions of disabled people at events during Disability Awareness Week Oct. 18 through Oct. 24.

Willis, who organized most of the week1s activities, said the most important message of the event was that a disability is just a secondary aspect of a person.

Willis cited former White House press secretary James Brady as an example of this message.

Brady, who was paralyzed and brain damaged after a bullet struck him during an assassination attempt on President Reagan, met students Tuesday afternoon at the Marvin Center. He is the chairman of the Brain Injury Association.

3People can admire him because of his accomplishments,2 Willis said. 3His disability is just another part of his life.2

Friday night in Stuart Hall, deaf performers told stories and jokes to an audience of both hearing and deaf people. Three deaf Latino performers used American Sign Language, as well as animated facial expressions and movements to make their tales come alive.

David Rivera, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., told stories about adventures in a haunted house. Manny Hernandez did impressions of baseball players Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

Mark Angel Morales, who grew up in East Los Angeles, relayed a story from his childhood about a traditional Latino family gathering.

The week1s events came to an end Saturday when Theta Delta Chi hosted Pararelays 198 on the Quad, which gave students with and without disabilities the chance to compete in events.

During the obstacle relays, students without disabilities experienced the challenges of life in a wheelchair.

Emily Baier, a junior and Phi Sigma Sigma member, ran the first leg of her team1s relay. The task was not as easy as it appeared.

3My arms are killing me,2 she said after sending the second racer off on the brick paved track. 3I couldn1t imagine going all day having to push myself.2

The week also highlighted the importance for the University to continue making efforts to meet the needs of disabled students, Willis said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was implemented in 1990, requires all public places to be accessible to disabled people. Although GW has made progress in making facilities accessible to the disabled, Willis said administrative offices in townhouses around campus are inaccessible to students in wheelchairs. In addition, the only access into the basement of Monroe Hall is by staircase, she said.

3There are some disabled students who have complained to me about

this problem,2 Willis said.

Although some University facilities still are inaccessible to some students, Willis said she cannot complain about GW1s efforts.

Demoz offered just one suggestion about how the University could make life easier for students with disabilities: 3How about a big cut in tuition?2

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