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March 25, 2003

San Diego campus celebrates disability awareness

From: The South End, MI - Mar 25, 2003

The disabilities that have presented the greatest challenges in my life are not the impairments of the body, but the disabilities of attitude'

- comedian Alex Valdes

By Melissa Berlant
The Daily Aztec

(U-WIRE) SAN DIEGO - Hearing impaired people danced on the Free Speech Steps. A quadriplegic surfer gave a speech. San Diego State University students who have full use of their legs traveled through Aztec Center in wheelchairs.

These events - in addition to more speakers, an information fair and a video display - were all part of San Diego State's Disability Awareness Day Wednesday.

Jill Cobb, Disabled Student Services Student Advisory Board chairperson, said the board organized the event to give students an idea of the services available through DSS for students with physical and learning disabilities.

Loco Funk, a local dance group that includes some deaf members, performed for a crowd of about 200 on the Free Speech Steps. They danced and translated many of the lyrics - from mostly hip-hop music - into American Sign Language.

The crowd "applauded" to each song by raising their hands above their heads and wiggling their fingers - the way applause is expressed in ASL.

"We really wanted to see hearing and deaf people come together and to be able to socialize more," Victor Medina, Loco Funk president and producer, said. "Often, deaf people watch music videos and they don't understand it. They don't know what's going on because they can't lip-read what's going on. We decided to translate some of those songs into American Sign Language."

Medina said the group is able to dance to the music because only four out of the six group members are deaf or hard of hearing. The deaf performers will follow the hearing and hard of hearing members to find cues in the music.

Throughout the day, people were invited to look at information booths set up along Centennial Walkway.

At the learning disabilities booth, visitors tried activities designed to illustrate learning disabilities. One test required participants to find their way through a maze while only looking at the maze in a mirror. The activities gave participants a chance to see what it is like to have dyslexia or another visual impairment, SDSU Learning Disabilities Specialist Jess Porras said.

"We wanted to expose some of these students that normally wouldn't come into our office to what a learning disability is," Porras said.

The table also had tools available to learning-impaired students and a poster with famous people who had learning disabilities, such as Albert Einstein, on display.

Across the walkway, students were given a chance to see what it would be like to use a wheelchair.

Rita Roberson, a graduate student with cerebral palsy working for a certificate in adaptive technology, was in charge of the booth. Participants rode the wheelchairs through an obstacle course - up the ramp behind the Aztec Center USE Credit Union, through a non-handicap accessible door in Montezuma Hall, out the automatic door and back down the ramp.

Business senior Peter Casperssen led people around the course. He said the most difficult part for everybody was the door in Montezuma Hall that was not wheelchair accessible. While he stood and watched participants struggle with the door, he noticed people who didn't know it was a simulation give him dirty looks for not helping.

Karina Zapata, a pre-physical therapy senior, went on the obstacle course and said she needed someone to open the door for her. Another difficult part of the course for her was the ramp, which required a lot of upper body strength.

Jesse Bilhauer, who graduated from SDSU last year, spoke about the surfing accident that made him a quadriplegic at 17 and his life since then. He surfs on his stomach using an 8-foot-2-inch board with foot straps, which he uses for his elbows. He also travels around the world.

He said he is still able to do much of what he did prior to the accident, only now he needs permanent help.

He said some people treat him differently than they did before the accident. He notices this especially with girls, but he said all the bad ones are weeded out and he gets the good ones who like him for him.

Blind comedian Alex Valdez was the final speaker.

"The disabilities that have presented the greatest challenges in my life are not the impairments of the body, but the disabilities of attitude," Valdez said. "My dealing with my blindness is a challenge that most of you will never know, but dealing with the disabilities of attitude is a battle that you and I share in one way or another."

Copyright © 2003, The South End Newspaper, all rights reserved.