Mara Bellino knows how a disability can effect earning a college degree. Bellino also knows that disability services at JMU can be a backbone for success. Now she's hoping Disability Awareness Week—March 29 through April 1—will heighten awareness of disability services across campus.
"Having Disability Awareness Week is about opening the doors, and opening individuals' eyes, that having a disability and disability awareness are just another part of diversity," said Bellino, a senior and a peer mentor in the JMU Office of Disability Services. "JMU stresses diversity a lot on this campus and including disabilities in that category is important."
"We want to celebrate our office in a way that the JMU campus may not see us," said Kendall Meyer, a junior and another peer mentor. "We want to make the campus aware that we are here helping people, and we can help you too if necessary. To make it so that people are OK with disabilities. To show them that it's not something to be embarrassed about, it's something that happens and it's something that the JMU community should be more accepting of."
One of the highlights of the week will be a keynote address on Monday by Dr. Richard Pimentel, a driving force behind enactment of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Pimentel was declared dead at birth, grew up in a dysfunctional family and lost his hearing to a bomb blast while serving in the Vietnam War. He will discuss his life story, which inspired the 2007 movie, "Music Within," from 7-9 p.m. in Room 2301 of the Health and Human Services Building. The movie will be shown 8-10 p.m. Tuesday in the Allegheny Room at the Festival Conference and Student Center.
"I was researching speakers that talk about disability awareness and after one of the movie nights where we showed "Music Within," it just hit me: How cool would it be if Richard Pimentel, one of the key players who sparked this movement, that resulted in the Americanâ€™s With Disabilities Act, how awesome would that be if he could come to JMU and kick off the Disability Awareness Week," Bellino said.
Ultimately, Bellino and Meyer want people with and without disabilities to know about the Office of Disability Services and the assistance it offers.
"It's not just an office that helps students with learning disabilities, because some students with something like a medical disability, such as diabetes, wouldn't necessarily think we could help them, when in reality we can, and we do," Meyer said. "It's important for them to realize that we're open for all types of impairments and disabilities."
Added Bellino, "We serve a wide range of not only students that have learning disabilities but students that have physical impairments, students that have psychological issues, students that break their leg. So we serve a vast array of students on campus that have a lot if different needs."