Barrier Day raises disability awareness

Marlene Brueggmann

Rocky LeBlanc swirled around the tennis court, speeding to the net and securing loose balls in the spokes of his wheelchair.

Even in the wheelchair, LeBlanc seemed more on top of the game than his teammate on two legs.

LeBlanc participated in the athletic wheelchair demonstration that closed activities yesterday at the Second Annual Barrier Day.

The event was part of national Disabled Awareness Week.

Matt Davis, Equal Opportunity/ADA Compliance/Student Disability coordinator, organized the athletic exhibition at Preston Center.

Along with his friends Russell Rodrigez and LeBlanc, Davis described a variety of wheelchairs designed for sports such as skiing, basketball and racing.

Davis said he had planned a more detailed demonstration, but he was pleased to see students trying out the equipment.

“Getting the participation from the people who were there was really an added bonus,” Davis said.

Barrier Day began with a kickoff session at DUC Theater. Speakers included President Gary Ransdell, Sen. Brett Guthrie and University Relations Editor Kimberly Parsley.

After settling her seeing-eye dog at the podium, Parsley told the crowd

about the environmental barriers – as well as the barriers from the general public – she faces on a daily basis.

“The greatest barrier is the disabling perception,” Parsley said. “That’s harder to overcome than any other.”

Parsley said that when some people meet a disabled person, the first thing that comes to their minds seems to be that the disabled person is either stupid or unable to understand English.

“I think you should look at the disabled people around you and admire their patience,” Parsley said.

Hawesville senior Kim Dye attended the session for class. Dye said she feels more aware of problems disabled people face.

“The sensitivity factor is important,” Dye said. “A lot of people don’t understand how disabled people feel, like when people come up to them and ask them what happened to them. They really just want to be treated normal and not be asked any insensitive questions.”

The keynote speaker was Tim Farmer, host of “Kentucky Afield,” the longest continuously running outdoor television show in the nation.

Farmer lost his right arm in a motorcycle accident. Not wanting to give up hunting and fishing, Farmer developed skills that allowed him to continue both activities.

Farmer demonstrated how he shoots his bow, using a piece of leather that is attached to the bowstring and pulling it back with its teeth.

Carrollton junior Corey Montgomery attended the the kickoff session to see Farmer. Montgomery said he watched Farmer’s show growing up and is very impressed by Farmer’s abilities.

“He hit the bull’s-eye right on, at 20 yards away,” Montgomery said. “It was awesome to see how he was still able to overcome those barriers that keep him from doing the things that he loves to do.”

Barrier Day was dedicated to Evan Jones, a Western student who suffered from a hidden disability and passed away last spring.

Huda Melky, director of Equal Opportunity and ADA Compliance, said that Jones’ wife donated a $1,000 scholarship in memory of her husband.

The scholarship will be awarded to a student with a hidden disability next fall.

Davis said most of the comments he heard expressed people’s appreciation for the event and how it changed their views about people with disabilities.

“I think it is really hard to get a perspective of what a day is like for a person with a disability until you actually go through it,” Davis said.

Reach Marlene Brueggemann at [email protected]