VIU’s Disability Awareness Club held a meeting on Oct. 11 in bldg. 355 of the Nanaimo campus. Members discussed areas of the campus that could be improved for wheelchair accessibility, how they could improve disability awareness among students, and how to increase the club’s publicity.
The Disability Awareness Club was founded in Sept. by Richard Harlow, a student from Nanaimo who serves on the Students’ Union board of directors and is also legally blind. There are currently sixteen members, half of which are disabled. “I’ve had a few people come up to me,” Harlow says, “and I’ve talked to disabled students before about improving campus conditions. But I felt that in order to actually make change, it would be a good idea to make the club. I’m in third-year right now, and when I’m finished I would like for there to be something left behind that can continue in my place to make the university more accessible and spread awareness to students.”
An area that members saw as inaccessible was the Tamagawa Garden. One club member said that she had to have her wheelchair carried by four people just to get through the garden. Members suggested that the gravel pathway running along the outside of the garden be paved.
The club is planning to host a day of disability awareness on Mar. 21, 2013, and is inviting other groups like the Nanaimo Organization for the Visually Impaired, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Island Hard of Hearing, and Mental Health to host activities to raise disability awareness at VIU. “People don’t know what it’s like until they actually experience it,” Harlow says. “If you’re blind folded and given a cane and told go down the road and see if you bump into anything, seeing how you react, it kind of opens up your eyes to what it’s like to have a disability.”
Harlow hopes that the Disability Awareness Club will not only improve the campus, but will also provide a forum for disabled students. “I want the club to reach out to people that are willing and want to meet other people,” Harlow says, “because sometimes you feel alone when you have a disability. If you’re blind and you don’t really know who’s around you, you can feel like you’re the only blind person on the campus and feel alone…If we could open up the conversation it would help people with disabilities feel more welcome around the campus, which is how it should be.”
For more information on the Disability Awareness Club, contact Richard Harlow at <VIUDisabilityAwarenessClub@gmail.com>.