U.Va. Student Council Plans Events for Disabilities Awareness Week

October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009 — Students and faculty at the University of Virginia are known for their ability and achievement. For those with disabilities, though, sometimes it just takes a little more effort to level the playing field.

Beginning Monday, Student Council is partnering with the University Programs Council and U.Va.'s Learning Needs and Evaluation Center to put the spotlight on the achievements of people with disabilities. Disabilities Awareness Week will feature two film screenings and two guest speakers.

Also, posters will be displayed around Grounds depicting celebrities with disabilities, including Albert Einstein (delayed speech as a child), Tom Cruise (dyslexia), Thomas Edison (delayed reading as a child) and Robin Williams (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder).

People's disabilities are not always obvious, said Jason Shapiro, a third-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, who has been the driving force behind the week.

About five students on Grounds get around in wheelchairs, Shapiro said. By contrast, Allison Anderson, director of the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center – which seeks to help students with all kinds of disabilities succeed at the University – said that about 500 students seek out the center's services in any given semester, many of them with conditions that are not readily visible, including physical, psychiatric and learning disabilities.

Shapiro, who has been planning the week since the spring as a member of Student Council's Civic Engagement Committee, said he was inspired by his brother, Mark, who has cerebral palsy. Mark Shapiro, now a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University, successfully lobbied the Virginia General Assembly to have October declared Disability Awareness Month.

So far, plans for the week have been well received, Jason Shapiro said. "People who are involved with disability stuff on Grounds love it."

Here's the lineup:

• Monday, 7 p.m., Wilson Hall room 402: Dr. Paul Wichansky, a nationally known public speaker on disability awareness, will discuss his experience with cerebral palsy.

• Tuesday, 7 p.m., Minor Hall Auditorium: Premiere screening of "Spotlight: Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind," by deaf director Jennifer Witteborg.

• Wednesday, 7 p.m., Newcomb Hall Theater: Screening of "Music Within," the true story of Richard Pimentel's struggle with hearing loss and newfound devotion to people with disabilities. Admission is free.

• Thursday, 6:30 p.m., Cabell Hall room 138: U.Va alumna Sharon Pajka-West will discuss her experience with Meniere's disease and how it has impacted her teaching at Gallaudet University.

— By Dan Heuchert