Panelists: Empathy for disabled needed

By Ross Bogue

Students with disabilities said they wanted to be seen as individuals first, not just people with handicaps, at last night’s Diversity Dialogues discussion.

The final Diversity Dialogues forum of the semester, titled “A Voice for Students with Disabilities,” gave an opportunity for students and faculty to discuss what it means to be a disabled student on campus.

“If people can establish a sort of empathy for people with a disability, it will make a huge difference on how people who are disabled are viewed on campus,” said Hammad Khan, a communication junior. “People should have a first-person vision. They should see the person first and see the disability later.”

The panelists shared their experiences with disabilities from multiple sclerosis to mental handicaps, and they stressed the need for communication on campus between disabled students and others.

Tate White, a geography junior, has cognitive disabilities and visual impairments after being hit by a car in high school.

“It’s socially difficult for me because people look at me and don’t see a disability and then don’t believe I have one,” White said.

White said she deals with her disability by getting involved on campus and being open in discussing the cause of her disability.

The hour-long open discussion between the panel and audience helped give the handful of students in the crowd a better understanding of what it means to be disabled.

“This forum really opened my eyes to a lot of things that I have never personally experienced,” said Margaret Ann Stewart, an English and Spanish junior. “It definitely gave me a new outlook on what these students have to go through everyday.”

Students have to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is disabled to understand that person, said Linda Hellmich, a psychologist from UK’s Counseling and Testing Center.

“When we’re working with a student who has a disability at the testing center, we try and immerse ourselves in their world to truly grasp what they are feeling,” she said.