As a way to close out disability awareness month, student Martin Davis hosted a diversability forum for UTC students. The forum was designed as a way for UTC students and faculty to learn more about individuals with disabilities and their daily life. I was invited to be a part of the panel and discuss my disability, limb girdle muscular dystrophy.
Host Martin Davis started the evening by sharing his dream of how the forum came to be. It was easy to see how much this evening meant Martin.
Martin educated the audience about a condition he was born with called spina bifida. He bravely shared intimate details of his childhood. Elementary and middle school days were the hardest for Martin. Children can be so cruel at that age and it's hard to fit in if you have a disability. As I looked out into the audience I knew that Martin did not have to worry about his current classmates being cruel to him. I instantly knew which audience members were Martin's friends. They beamed with pride and a few of them were even filming his performance, which was absolutely fabulous. I learned so much thanks to Martin being willing to share his story.
Next on the panel was Preston. Preston shared his story of living with autism. It was all thanks to an article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press about autism that led Preston to his diagnosis. He educated the audience about the autism spectrum. Preston spoke about different body mannerisms that people with autism can show. He also spoke very highly of the Mosaic program that the Disability Resource Center at UTC
designed to help students with autism.
Allie was the first female on the panel and spoke about dwarfism. Instead of discussing the medical side of dwarfism, Allie spoke about the social issues that come along with having a disability. She not only spoke about how cruel children could be but how insensitive adults could be as well. Allie said that random strangers try to sneak photos of her all the time because she is a 'little person'. Standing 4 feet 5 inches tall, Allie is a determined young lady who wants to be seen for the person she is and not for the disability that she has.
I was the final person on the panel. I immediately had to apologize to the audience because I knew I was not going to be nearly as funny as Allie had been. As time was quickly running out, I briefly told my story about being diagnosed with limb girdle muscular dystrophy. I talked about all the things that I have done in spite of living with a disability. I shared a little about the wonderful Ms Wheelchair Tennessee organization. Since educating children about individuals with disabilities has been such a huge part of my platform, I shared a brief summary of my school visits with the audience. The audience and panel members all agreed that educating our children about individuals with disabilities is something that needs to be done.
I was honored to be a part of tonight's forum. I want to thank Martin Davis for allowing me to be a part of this. I hope this becomes an annual event at UTC that grows each year.