University students will have a chance this month to learn about disabilities and what it means to have one and still be “able and aware,” the theme of the 2006 Disability Awareness Month.
Disability Awareness Month dates back to 1945 when former president Truman said the first week in October should be dedicated to focusing on employment issues for people with disabilities.
Since 1945, the entire month of October has been named National Disability Employment Awareness Month. UT celebrates this by organizing programs to raise awareness about disabilities to create a more inclusive campus community, said Matt Springer, a coordinator at the Office of Disability Services.
“Any time you create an inclusive and diverse environment, everyone benefits. Our events are not just for students who are registered with the Office of Disability Services, but for everyone,” Springer said.
The Office of Disability Services and the Disability Awareness Month committee are responsible for organizing the month’s events aimed to educate students. The committee is made of Office of Disability Services staff, faculty, administrators and students.
Disability Awareness Month started early this year due to scheduling conflicts. On Sept. 25, Erik Weihenmayer, a blind mountain climber, made a presentation to over 300 university community attendees. Weihenmayer is one of only 100 mountaineers to have ever climbed the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on all seven continents.
Other events of Disability Awareness Month included the Oct. 6 showing of the movie “Murderball.” The film followed the rival American and Canadian wheelchair rugby teams to the 2004 Paralympics.
A new voting machine that is more accessible for people with disabilities was demonstrated Oct. 10. The machine will be more universal so that everyone can use it without trouble.
Upcoming events to wrap-up the month include the Universal Design Project competition and Trunk or Treat.
The Universal Design competition is for any group of up to four full-time students. Participants’ design projects must meet the criteria of effectively enhancing a product, service or environment to better serve both people with and without disabilities. The awards reception and display of all the entries will be held Oct. 27 in the UC Ballroom and Crest Room.
Trunk or Treat is a program that offers children with and without disabilities a safe environment to participate in a Halloween tradition. The event is held at Circle Park and participants are encouraged to dress up their car and load up their trunks with plenty of candy.
“We have focused our efforts on inviting children with disabilities, but all children are welcome. By providing a safe and accessible trick-or-treat activity, we hope that any child who may not be able to go door-to-door can still participate in the tradition of the season (and) get as much candy as possible in one night,” Springer said.
Any student, group of students, class, UT organization or faculty member can sponsor a car. Car sponsors are responsible for decorating a car and providing candy and other treats for the children.
“It’s an opportunity to provide children with disabilities a fun alternative to traditional trick-or-treating. The ability to make a child smile is reason enough to be involved,” said Burke Brewer, a senior in psychology and second-year Trunk or Treat car sponsor.
While sponsors do not have to dress up for the event, the children usually appreciate it, Brewer said.
Trunk or Treat will be held Oct. 30 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Circle Park. Students interested in sponsoring a car are asked to register online by 5 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 23 at http://www.utk.edu/ableandaware/trunkortreat.