Campus Life

UWF hosts Disability Awareness Day

People with disabilities are the fastest growing minority in the country. Recent technological advancements have allowed for earlier and more accurate detection of physical and mental disabilities, and institutions must adapt to the growing awareness and sensitivity of the issue.

The University of West Florida has worked for the past seven years to raise awareness in the Pensacola region and make those with disabilities feel accepted and welcome on campus. UWF will host a Disability Awareness Day Oct. 20 in collaboration with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The event will feature presentations and activities for those with physical and mental disabilities; in addition, it will inform the public what it is like to function in society with a disability.

Samuel Dirden, a UWF senior with cerebral palsy, feels the event is a positive step forward for the university and for disability awareness in general.

“The event shows the students what we go through,” said Dirden. “Whether you’re blind, deaf or disabled, Disability Awareness Day showcases the full spectrum. Most people can’t handle it for a day, much less their whole life, and that’s why this event is so important.”

Events planned include a career fair, book club discussion, vendor promotions and other activities aimed at helping those with disabilities succeed on campus and in the work force, as well as helping those without disabilities become more aware of the experiences and triumphs of others.

The day’s festivities are a voluntary service that the university provides to the community.

“It’s a part of the university’s progressiveness,” said Catherine Powell, director of UWF’s Informal Dispute Resolution/ADA Compliance Office. “It’s important to do beyond what’s legally required.”

The event will also confront myths about disabilities and provide the public with facts that enable them to behave appropriately around all members of society.

“I want to show people that I’m someone just like them,” said Dirden. “I like when people offer to help, and sometimes I do need help, but they should also understand if I want to do a certain task myself and not take it personally.”

For the 2009-10 semester, 317 students were registered as having disabilities on campus. The university is aware of the growing numbers and is taking steps to accommodate the issue.

“We want to have a campus that is open, accessible and inclusive to all,” said Mike Dieckmann, vice president of University Affairs. “Everyone should be able to take advantage of the learning environment.”

UWF President Judith Bense was clear about the role faculty and staff should play in helping those with disabilities feel accepted, on and off campus.

“Faculty members are encouraged to discuss issues about disability in their classes,” said Bense. “All faculty, students and staff are encouraged to visit the extensive exhibits on display in the University Commons and to participate in the diverse activities scheduled.”

Dirden wanted to encourage disabled and non-disabled people alike to persevere despite the obstacles that have been set before them and to seize the day.

“If I can do it, anyone can,” he said. “Your predicament shouldn’t stop you. It’s all about your mindset and determination.”

For more information on Disability Awareness Day, visit