Constitution Day commemorates the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787. This year, however, students got to learn why some Americans are still working towards life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Wartburg College recognized Constitution Day, Sept. 19, with a convocation led by Jane Hudson, the executive director of Disability Rights IOWA (DRI). Hudson hopes students will practice active empathy when interacting with people who have a disability.
“We all benefit from the interaction with many different kinds of people,” Hudson said. “So if there are barriers to people with disabilities participating in any activities at a college, let’s be creative and think about how we can be a college community together.”
Hudson’s fellow presenters were familiar with exclusion, both from school and society.
John TenPas, DRI board president, has lived with cerebral palsy since birth.
Born well before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, TenPas related how difficult it was to find a job.
“Someone once coined the phrase, ‘Having a disability is a natural experience’ and if you think about it, it is because anyone could have a disability,” TenPas said.
TenPas was joined at the mic by Emmanuel Smith, Americans with Disabilities intern, who attended Drake University where he completed his bachelors degree in political science.
Smith was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a condition resulting in extremely fragile bones.
Smith, born a year before the ADA, described how difficult the college transition could be for a student with disabilities.
“It’s a lot more independence, more decision making, and so with students with disabilities those challenges can be compounded,” Smith said.
Smith stressed the importance of having a strong disability services coordinator on a campus who could help students transition.
A disabled student’s fellow classmates also have a large responsibility.
“Students need to be aware of the challenges their fellow students might face who have disabilities. That will better enable them to transcend those challenges and be full participatory students and members of the college community.”
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Wartburg second-year Andrew Tubbs is familiar with the challenges Smith discussed.
Tubbs was born with Thrombocytopenia-absent radius (TAR) syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disease characterized by blood platelet deficiency and the absence of a radius in either forearm.
“For me personally, I didn’t have too much trouble with the college transition, but I think that’s a tribute to my personality,” Tubbs said.
“I could imagine it would be difficult for some people especially on Wartburg campus where physical disability isn’t as well represented as other stuff.”
Tubbs is one of a few Wartburg students who is, as Tubbs says, “differently-abled.”
He stressed how accommodating the Wartburg staff has been, but said there are changes that could be made.
“The Mensa is not differently abled-friendly. A person in a wheelchair that goes into the Mensa and tries to get something like the milk glasses or grab something from the salad bar? That’s not going to happen. No.”
“It’s a dignity issue, an independence issue and a choice issue for all of us including people with disabilities,” Hudson pointed out.
“There are laws to protect the rights of people with disabilities now, but they have to be enforced.”