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Disability advocates note progress and push for more

The organization is celebrating its four-year anniversary of its website and listserv this month.

Jack Witty, Best Buddies president, says the campus perception of disabilities has progressed substantially over the last few years.

“The change has been really visible,” he said.

The coalition has accomplished a collection of agenda items, like founding the UNC Chapel Hill ADA Legacy Project. This project, which offers an oral history of disability rights at the University, has led to the creation of two disability studies classes.

Junior Hannah Single took a disability studies course with Professor Neel Ahuja in spring 2014 after becoming a volunteer with Best Buddies.

“The class gave me a better perspective on working with people with disabilities,” she said. “Especially when talking about disabilities. I have become more aware of my word choices.”

The coalition has also established three undergraduate student organizations that actively fight for disability justice.

Best Buddies members also lead a disability awareness committee seeking to raise awareness for disability rights, with one of their biggest projects being the annual “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign.

Witty says he has seen a wonderful change since they first started the campaign.

“When we first started our ‘Spread the Word to End the Word’ campaign, we had a lot of people asking why we were doing it and why the ‘r-word’ is bad,” he said.

“We’re coming into year three of that and you can see the difference — people are coming up and asking if they can sign our petition because they totally agree with the cause.”

Best Buddies is hoping to bring Kyle Maynard, a quadriplegic former wrestler for the University of Georgia, to speak to students on campus.

“It is such an inspiring story that it will hopefully have broad appeal across campus from athletes to everyone else,” Witty said.

Logan Gin, co-chair for Advocates for Carolina, said his group is looking to become involved in planning committees like University transportation committees and the University’s master plan.

“We are trying to get some input into those talks to make sure that disabilities and campus accessibility is a discussion that’s being had,” said Gin, who lives with dwarfism.

While accessibility at UNC has made significant progress, Gin said there is still room for improvement. He has had to change recitation sections before because he could not access certain classrooms.

“Some of the buildings aren’t as accessible as you may think — one of the elevators in Gardner still had a manual door that you had to open and close which was a hassle with my scooter,” Gin said.

“One of the things the University prides itself on is its history and how old we are, but at the same time it’s kind of a challenge with the older buildings and facilities to make them accessible.”

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