When the University of Illinois launched their new motto of “Inclusive Illinois,” many believed that this was brought up by the array of events that were tied with race on campus. From the racist tweets against Chancellor Phyllis Wise last year to the Salaita controversy, race has been very apparent on the campus. So when we think of “Inclusive Illinois,” we think of race, maybe even being inclusive of the LGBTQ community, or religion, but many times, we do not think of people with disabilities.
Finding a Sense of Home
Adapting to the new environment of a college campus and the new college lifestyle is difficult. For many, it is the first time they are away from their family, it is the first time living with random people, and the workload of college is much more than that of high school. Just as it must be that much harder for international students to adjust because of language barriers, it must be that much harder for students with disabilities as well. They have to go through obstacles on a daily basis that students without disabilities would not encounter.
However, many students with disabilities on campus are not let down by their disability. This applies to the players of the Illini Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. Josh Maier, a junior in community health, as well as a member of the team, says he has found an outlet for his disability.
“It’s helped me find a productive thing to do with it instead of throwing a petty party and saying I can’t be an able-bodied athlete so I’m going to sit around all day. It gives me something to do, stay active, enjoy sports and it levels out the playing field,” Maier says.
The University has the oldest wheelchair basketball program in the country. The trophy case inside of the Disabled Resources and Educational Services Building is filled with trophies from the Illini Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. The Men’s Basketball Team has won 15 National Championships since the program was founded in 1948, and the Women’s Basketball Team has won 14 National Championships. The teams practice every day, Monday through Friday, from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. Many of the athletes have found a sense of family and home through the team. Patrick Tomic, also a junior in community health and a member of the team is one of those that feel that way.
“The great thing about wheelchair basketball is that I’m with these guys 24/7 basically. Since I’ve been here, been recruited, I’ve always had someone to call family here. I can always count on these guys to have my back,” Tomic says.
These athletes have found a way to be included within the school community and to have a sense of belonging. So the problem isn’t them, but it’s us. Matt Buchi, head coach of the Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Team says that there isn’t a lot of audience turnout at the games, and wishes that more people would come out to support them.
“Our big goal as a program is to be creating awareness to people with disabilities and the opportunities they have and the things that they can do,” Buchi says. “We want our campus to see somebody in a wheelchair and their first thought to be ‘do they play wheelchair basketball?’ rather than ‘why are they in a wheelchair?’.”
We as a campus should be more inclusive and go out to the wheelchair basketball games to support our fellow peers.
Check out their schedule to see when their next game is!
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Ending the Awkward
The University of Illinois was recently announced as the Paralympic Training Site and is one of the first universities to accommodate students with disabilities.
Beckwith Hall, the residential hall for students with disabilities, especially for those in wheelchairs, is a state of the art facility. However, still with all these advancements, many students at the University feel awkward around students with disabilities. Most of the time it is because they are being too nice and don’t want to offend the disabled student.
Students go out of their way to open doors for students in wheelchairs, they bend down when talking to them, they offer unnecessary help, or sometimes, they just don’t know what to do at all.
Paige Lindahl-Lewis, a disability specialist at the University, says to move past that discomfort and look at the person.
“First and foremost, they are students. Then having a disability is just a part of them in the same way in how they identify as LGBTQ, by race, religion, whatever,” Lewis says.
Scope: End the Awkward Campaign
Scope, a charity group based in the U.K.,recently launched a campaign titled “End the Awkward.” According to their website, their vision is “a world where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.” They believe that people should look past the disability and see the person. They have released a series of videos on Youtube where people are put in awkward situations with disabled people. They show what not to do and then what to do.
Their website offers support and information to disabled people and it also shows ways in how we can get involved to support their mission.
Just because someone has a disability does not mean they have a set limit to them. We should not see just the wheelchair and make judgments or assumptions about the person. Just as race, ethnicity, age, gender, etc. are just a part of us and not what defines us, disabilities are the same.
Click here to learn how to talk to a person in a wheelchair without being awkward.
Click here to learn how to shake a hand that isn’t there.