By Stephanie Dolan
March is Indiana Disability Awareness Month, and for the second year in a row, a state agency has unveiled an education initiative intended to improve understanding and promote inclusion across Indiana.
The Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities has created a list of 31 tips on disability that are published on social media throughout the month of March. Tips are intended to edify the public on ways to promote the equality and inclusion of all hoosiers. This year’s tips are updated and displayed as graphic images and short videos, which is new to this year’s initiative.
Some examples of the tips:
- People with disabilities are, first and foremost, people. Respect them by talking to them just as if you would anyone else.
- Unless someone asks you otherwise, stick to “person with a disability” instead of “a disabled person.” Emphasize the person, not the disability.
- Ask if you can help someone before just doing it. Assuming someone can’t do something is rude.
- Disability is a natural part of life; people with disabilities are living with them, not suffering from them.
- Having a disability is much more common than people think. You have an 80 percent chance of experiencing a disability before the age of 65.
“We’re looking forward to using the 31 tips initiative again this year to help educate hoosiers during Disability Awareness Month,” Christine Dahlberg, the governor’s council executive director, said in a prepared statement. “The new videos of the tips will be a great way to further engage the public and sharing them on social media will make it easy for everyone to get involved.”
Paralympian Ayden Jent is a member of the council as well, and is excited about his role on the council as well as this year’s initiative.
“I read about the council and was excited about it and wanted to serve the city and the state I love so much,” he said. “I reached out and was thankfully selected for it back in December. This is my first year on the council.”
Jent, 25, is a resident of Fletcher Place in Fountain Square. He runs track and field in the Paralympics and awarded silver at the Toronto games.
“That also gave me a platform to serve others with disabilities,” he said.
Jent also works with the Joseph Maley Foundation.
“They go into schools – usually elementary – and have puppeteers and talk about overcoming disabilities and about how they can happen to anybody,” he said. “I’m on the disability awareness panel where there’s four or five of us who go into schools and talk about overcoming disabilities and living with them. One of the people on the panel with me was hit by a car and was disabled as a result. It really can happen to anybody. Treat people respectfully. It can happen to you in the blink of an eye.”
According to the council, the 31 tips are meant to be their own program while also offsetting the Disability Awareness Month theme: “Be Cool. We Are.” This theme encourages the idea of treating others the way you would like to be treated, regardless of differences. The movement focuses on the importance of being comfortable in your own skin and making the conscious decision to be yourself, because acting differently around someone with a disability is not cool.
Emily Munson, 34, is an employment litigator with Indiana Disability Rights, and is a spokesperson for the governor’s council. She is also highlighted as someone with a disability on the #BeCoolWeAre video.
“I was involved in the campaign last year,” she said. “When I was on the council, I’d say about three or four years ago we kind of decided that we wanted to spread our message in a more aggressive manner. That we are people just like everybody else. That we are capable of living independently and productively and we wanted to promote that message rather than the inspirational types of messages that had been put out through social media.
“We decided to work with our marketing group and they really understood what our idea was. I was so excited about the messaging that I wanted to participate. Last year I was part of the PSA that the governor’s council did. When they announced this year that they were looking for folks to participate. I was more than happy to throw my hat into the ring of participants.”
Munson has spinal muscular atrophy type 2, a type of muscular dystrophy. While she uses a wheelchair, she says the looks and the behavior she receives from some people no longer bother her.
“I would say when I was a child it disturbed me more,” she said. “Now I’m used to it. I think it’s really important that if people do have questions that they ask. For example, I remember being in a grocery store once and a little boy came over and asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ The mother pulled him away and said, ‘don’t ask that’ instead of allowing me to explain what was wrong, but that I could come out and pick out groceries just like him and his mom.”
Munson wants people to understand that those with disabilities can live very satisfying and productive lives.
“The world is kind of a give-and-take place in that all of us are able to participate and offer something to each other,” she said.
“We are here to advance the independence productive and inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of society,” Jent said. “I feel like people with disabilities don’t have a voice at the table and this is part of what the council does – to be that voice and to support them in any way we can.”
To get involved with the Governor’s Council campaign and to help spread awareness, visit indianadisabilityawareness.org. To view each tip during March and to share them as they are released, visit facebook.com/GCPDIndiana or twitter.com/GCPDIndiana.
5 questions with Ayden Jent
Who or what inspires you? For me, inspiration can come from anywhere. It can come from movies, family members, friends, music, sports or characters in a book. Inspiration comes from what the heart desires and it connects with you on a personal level in a way other things may not. But, just to name a few: Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, Emma Watson, Nina Simone and the fictional character Henry Fleming.
What are you currently reading? I am reading two books right now. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo, and Road to Valour: A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Aili McConnon and Andres McConnon.
What do you think is your finest quality? I would say my kindness. It is a wonderful feeling to pass along small acts of kindness. To see a person’s smile when you hold the door for them, or say, “please” and “thank you” makes my day. Let’s face it: life can beat you down at times. A small act of kindness could bring somebody up when they are feeling down or change their lives. Treat others how you would want to be treated. Life is too short to be negative all the time.
If you could wake up tomorrow without a disability, would you? Although I do dream about what it would be like to walk straight and without a limp, no, I would not; my disability has become a part of who I am. It has opened doors I never dreamed would open. It makes me unique from everyone else.
Do you have any pets? No, I do not anymore, but I grew up with two cats, two dogs, a hamster and a goldfish.