People, not disabilities

Everyday struggles for students with disabilities overlooked by most

There are 261 students with disabilities currently enrolled at Ferris, yet their everyday life isn’t understood by much of the student population.

Ferris psychology sophomore Kalina Mohnke has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II and has been in a wheelchair since she was three years old.

“When I first got here, one of the funniest things that I noticed right away that most people don’t notice: the disabilities sign that says where the disability office says ‘up the stairs.’ I was like, that is so ironic,” Mohnke said.

Getting from her dorm room in North Hall to her classes can be a time-consuming struggle, and Mohnke often misses out on the privileges of non-disabled students, she said.

“All of my classes are in Starr and Arts and Sciences. I have to use three elevators, and I have to cross two floors just to get to my class. There’s stairwells everywhere that you can see, but I don’t think they took into consideration the elevators,” Mohnke said. “Even the hockey games. I’m a big sports person. I can’t even go sit with the student section because there’s stairs, so I have to sit with the opponents.”

The office of Educational Counseling and Disability Services provides a wide range of assistance to students with disabilities relating to testing, note-taking, housing and more.

Students with disabilities are assigned a disability adviser who can help them secure accommodations in the classroom, such as extended exam time or a scribe to write for them.

Although Ferris provides many services to help students with disabilities, there are still some problems, such as buildings without accessible buttons or bathrooms.

In general, Mohnke said that physical disabilities tend to get less recognition than mental illness because of their rarity.

“Physical disabilities aren’t as prevalent. You don’t meet a lot of people our age with a physical disability, whereas mental health, that is very common. A lot of college students have some sort of mental health problem or disorder or whatnot,” Mohnke said. “That’s just true in general, too, not just Ferris. Most people that do have a physical disability, they die when they’re younger. My disease is the number one genetic killer of infants.”

Ferris social work second-year master’s student Emily Garlick has a mild form of cerebral palsy and said that the language people use is important.

“Terminology is a big one for me. Everybody has a different opinion about this if you talk to people with disabilities, but personally I prefer the language ‘person with a disability’ if it’s part of the conversation,” Garlick said. “The other way to use language is to say, ‘disabled person,’ but I prefer what’s called ‘person-first’ language. The emphasis is on the idea that we’re people, and not that we’re disabled.”

Garlick said that, for her, finding the energy to go to class, study and do homework is a challenge.

“Energy is something that needs to be managed carefully. One thing I’m really grateful for is that the master’s of social work program has a part-time track, and I think that is part of the reason I’m able to be successful,” Garlick said.

October is National Disabilities Month, a time when all students can strive to gain a better understanding of the experiences that people with disabilities have.

Events for the month included a theater performance, movie showing, forum and luncheon, and fully-accessible “Skeleton Skurry” 5K event. The events were planned by the Liaison Committee for Students with Disabilities, which is comprised of faculty, students and administrative staff, and strives to advocate for persons with disabilities.

Ferris Liaison Committee for Students with Disabilities Chair Maggie Walcott has been the Disability Awareness Month planning chair for two years.

“Unfortunately, for most, living with a disability is simply one of those things that they don’t think about because they don’t have to,” Walcott said. “Which really is a travesty considering that one out of every five people identies as being part of the ‘persons with disability’ population. Can you imagine just discounting the experience of 20 percent of the population on a daily basis?”