Homecoming Queen, Rhema Hedgpeth, a UNCG junior and a therapeutic recreation major, hosted the event “Let’s Talk About Disability” on April 12 in the Elliott University Center, Cone Ballroom A. Hedgpeth had the goal to host an “inclusive event where people are integrating themselves with people with disabilities and spreading it [awareness] with other people.” Her passion for advocating for people with disabilities, Hedgpeth described, started in high school.
“I came to college [and] I don’t know how, but I end up in therapeutic recreation. I started in a class talking about underrepresented populations, which included people with disabilities specifically,” Hedgepath said. “I am in a course called the peer companion program which gave us a buddy with disabilities and [we] get to know them. The knowledge I receive for being in that class allows me to get a passion for those with disabilities.”
She said, “It sparks my interest to be an advocate for them because I saw the things they were talking about and the struggles they go through. A lot of people don’t think about it because they don’t go through it. Let me be an advocate for them. When I got homecoming queen, that was my service initiative.”
During the event, there were four students on the panel: Skylor Clark, Ricole Wicks, Allyson Clayton and Alyssa Pickens. They talked about the challenges they face as a student on campus with disabilities.
Clark, a UNCG senior and a social work major, talked about some of the challenges he faces with being visually impaired. “One of the challenges that I often face is the sight, as far as reading print,” he said. People assume, Clark said, that if the reading print of something is large enough, that he can read it. “I even have a mobility instructor, who is supposed to teach people who are vision impaired how to move with the cane. This [is the] long cane that I used to walk with, so I won’t run into objects or fall downstairs. I told her that I couldn’t read that print sign way off [in the] distance even with a telescope, and she told me to try. She doesn’t understand that I can’t do that.”
“I used something called adaptive technology, it allows me to do my school assignments,” said Clark.
Some of the features of this, he said, include “a MacBook Pro with voice over. A question I often get that can be misconstruing in a way is, ‘How much can you see?’ It’s not really a question of how much I can see. It’s more of a question on how well. I don’t know how to describe that. That’s a challenge. I never see like anybody else. My vision is more like television. I can see more out of my eyes compared to the peripheral view. One eye is better than the other. There are still some things I can do for myself like [using] the microwave and walking around the campus. I don’t need assistance 24/7. It’s amazing and [I enjoy] gaining some independence.”
The panel members then discussed some of the things they wished non-disabled people could learn about the disabled community.
Wicks, a UNCG senior and an entrepreneurship major, said, “It’s better for you to ask what you think is a crazy question than to assume. That is probably the most offensive thing you can do, is [to] assume. People assume based on what you experience, whether it is from television or you meet someone who you think is similar.” Clayton, a UNCG freshman and an English major, said, “If you meet one person with a disability, then you[‘ve] only met one person with a disability.”
Usually, the movies and television shows we watch do not always shed light on the disabled community. The media often demonstrates characters with disabilities as not living meaningful lives, which is inaccurate.
Pickens, a UNCG junior, said, “As a media studies major, I’m always on the lookout for the upcoming movies. One of the movies, I had the displeasure to see is ‘Me Before You.’ That is a story about a very good looking man getting depression after becoming quadriplegic. At the end, he loses his will to live because he doesn’t want to take his old good memories with a new person who is open and willing to love him for who he is, and not from what he [has] become. I want to take on that industry… I feel like there needs to be more of a visual voice in terms of what people think we can’t do, which is so much more [than] they can possibly think of,” she said. However, Pickens is looking forward to the movie, “A Quiet Place,” where the protagonist is played by a deaf actress. “We have to start somewhere, and why not there,” said Pickens.
While some people with disabilities are able to obtain a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) from the government, this income does not allow them to have more than $2,000 in their checkings or savings combined. “The government is hoping that we would build ourselves up, and be[come] able to get up out of ours chairs and do stuff. We cannot get better. We are hoping that we won’t get worse. There is something that needs to be done about the SSI system and Medicaid,” said Pickens.