NAU’s Commission on Disability Access and Design have held a series of events to celebrate Disability Awareness Month throughout October. A Conversation on Disability, led by disability studies instructor Matthew Wangeman and John McDermott, NAU’s Institute for Human Development coordinator, was held Thursday. This event was an interactive panel that allowed participants to ask questions relating to disability.

Through these events, the university aims to educate students and faculty on disability. These presentations also address disability assumptions and stereotypes.

The Conversation on Disability event began with a presentation from McDermott, which outlined many of the barriers people with disabilities face.

At the event, McDermott said the first barrier people with disabilities face is attitude. The event aimed to change the attitude toward disability and encourage attendees to see from a different perspective.

“What we've seen consistently is that throughout a semester, when we have this rigorous dialogue with students in a class, you're going to see every sort of measurable differences in who they were at the beginning until who they were at the end of the semester,” McDermott said.

Wangeman also answered questions at the event and explained the importance of the panel. He said they have held this conversation for six years to be more open about disabilities.

Wangeman explained his personal experience living with cerebral palsy, which he was diagnosed with at 18 months, according to the NAU news website. He said people often make assumptions about disabilities.

“People do not really know how to deal with disabilities,” Wangeman said. “It is very weird how most people are scared to talk about disabilities. When people see me out on the street they assume my life must be some tragedy.”

Following the presentation was a Q&A session, during which Wangeman and McDermott encouraged participants to ask questions they may have been afraid to ask in the past. Question topics varied from policies to social issues.

Students and staff also asked questions regarding the daily life of a person with disabilities. Participants shared their own experiences with disability, either through themselves or a family member.

McDermott played a video that provided insight into how Wangeman lives with a disability. The video showcases Wangeman’s relationship with his son and how they are no different from others. Participants gave feedback on the video, explaining that it erased many false assumptions surrounding disability.

A presentation will be given on African American, LGBTQ and Latinx civil rights involvement along with the Disability Rights Movement to conclude Disability Heritage Month Oct. 30.

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