Raising awareness

Ferris student looking to shed light on disabilities

Sandra Underwood is looking to raise awareness of disabilities on the Ferris campus and in the Big Rapids community.

Underwood, a senior in elementary education, is president of the Disability Awareness and Education RSO (Registered Student Organization). She said the RSO was created in Fall 2009.

October is Disability Awareness Month, and Underwood wants staff, students and faculty to know they are welcome to go to the Disabilities Office if they have questions.

Underwood said, “We want to have a place where professors and instructors can go if they don’t know where to go,” she noted of faculty/staff that have questions about accommodating students with disabilities.

Along with Julie Rudolph of the Disabilities Office, Underwood said she was a part of helping set Disability Awareness and Education. The RSO focuses on all types of disabilities.

“We didn’t want to focus on one type (of disability),” said Underwood. She also said awareness is needed in the community. Since the RSO is fairly new, she said they are still trying to get funds.

Underwood said there are areas on campus that need to be improved for individuals with physical disabilities.

“There’s a lot of sidewalks that people in wheelchairs fall on,” said Underwood. She also said doors need to be improved as well. Currently, she and Disability Awareness and Education are working on raising awareness and petitioning for getting those improvements.

Underwood said she has a personal interest in helping out individuals affected by disabilities as well as personal issues that have affected her. When Underwood was a sophomore in college, she learned she had a form of narcolepsy that caused her to go through the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle of sleep faster than others.

“Narcolepsy is what was really hindered my work,” she said, adding that she always felt exhausted. She also said the Disabilities Services offices really worked with her and helped give her lee-way on the attendance policy.

Before she was a diagnosed, she said she would sleep as long as 36 hours, causing her to miss class. She wasn’t sure what the cause was until she went to a sleep clinic and learned of her condition.

Also, Underwood learned she had cystic fibrosis this past April, which she said although it is not a disability, it greatly hindered her focus. She felt sick all the time and wasn’t sure why until she was diagnosed with the disease. She is currently being treated.

“It’s better now, I can actually enjoy everything,” Underwood said.

As for her personal interest, Underwood said she started doing her own research in order to help out. Currently, the Disability Awareness and Education organization is working on creating a website for the organization that will feature personal stories and resources for staff, students and faculty.

“The group has helped me focus,” said Underwood. She added, “I’ve been able to help the RSO with the teaching aspect of it.”

Underwood is also a member of other RSOs on campus, including the Association of Future Educators, Crafter’s Anonymous, The Outdoors Club, ELITE (Excellent Leaders Inspiring to Excel) and Strider’s Running Club.

She said someone doesn’t have to have a disability in order to join the Disability Awareness and Education organization.

Anyone who is interested in attending meetings at DAE (Disability Awareness and Education) may contact Underwood at bend13@nullferris.edu or call 231-250-4327. n