Tyler Hoog, a senior who uses a wheelchair, said he believes that events such as the ones put on by Disability Awareness can aid all minority sports, not only disability sports.
“I think the issue disabled athletics face is gaining viewership. It has a lot in common with women's athletics from that sense,” Hoog said. “I don't think people think that WNBA players or wheelchair basketball players aren't amazing athletes or anything like that. The issue is that their games don't draw as big of a crowd as the NBA or other male sports.”
Most importantly, Disability Awareness wants the event to move students to understand and acknowledge how people with disabilities live.
“People tend to be uncomfortable with things they aren’t exposed to yet,” Caroline Folz, community buddy coordinator for Best Buddies, said. “Everybody has their own level of what’s normal, and it’s accepting that and encouraging awareness.”
By allowing students to play basketball in a wheelchair, the event merges the experiences of those with disabilities and those without.
“It takes a lot of strength to shoot a ball without your legs and I don't think people realize that,” Hoog said. “So it's cool that able-bodied people got to experience the difference.”
And the event seems to have succeeded in challenging students’ perceptions of disability.
“It was definitely eye opening. Because it's a pretty difficult game,” junior Omar Laaroussi said after participating.
This year, Disability Awareness is working to change UNC’s campus with the Accessible Icon Project, which advocates changing the traditional handicapped icon notably shown on accessible bathroom and parking space signs, to an active wheelchair, in hopes of creating a more realistic image of disability.
“It comes across as being more mobile. The person is bent forward, moving their arms,” senior Taylor Emory, member of Disability Awareness said, who is at the head of the project. “It shows that they are independent.”
Logan Gin, Mr. UNC and co-chair of Advocates for Carolina, is supporting Emory in the Accessible Icon Project and stopped by the wheelchair basketball event.
While Gin’s Mr. UNC platform includes making adaptive sports, such as wheelchair basketball, official intramurals, he was not involved in the Disability Awareness event outside of participating.
Gin said he was glad to see Best Buddies continuing the event in its fourth year.
“I think just in general, raising awareness and bringing light to disability issues is really great,” Gin said. “With my Mr. UNC service project, what’s going to empower it is student backing and student interest and student support in order to actually get something implemented.”
Disability Awareness members hope the wheelchairs outside of Davis on Monday weren’t simply mobility devices on loan from RDU guest services, but would widen student’s knowledge of lives with disabilities, would encourage students to live side-by-side with those different from them and would be an active symbol of change.
“We like to think that people with disabilities simply have different abilities than we do, and that can be really valuable in a community,” Best Buddies President Caitlin Schwagerl said. “We want students not just to accept people with disabilities’ differences, but to appreciate them as well.”