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Concord Hosts Disability Forum

By James Hoyle
On October 29, 2015


It should come as a shock to no one that spends any amount of time on campus that Concord University has many nontraditional students. Of these nontraditional students, there are several that have special needs. For example, some have no sight, some cannot walk, and others are attempting to cope with unseen mental illness. In an effort to raise awareness of these issues faced, Concord University held a Disability Celebration Awareness Forum in the State Room on Thursday, October 22, from 6:00 to 9:00 P.M. Several groups were in attendance, from Concord University’s Student Support Services, the West Virginia Library Commission, Concord’s Share the Love campaign, the West Virginia Statewide Independent Living Council, the Center for Excellence in Disabilities, and the USDA National Forest Service. All of these groups had graphs and presentations designed to raise awareness of disabilities, and to show what options are available to those with them. In addition to this, there were guest speakers, most notably Devin Wanner of the National Forest Service. 

As October is the Department of Labor’s Disability Employment Awareness Month, one of the topics discussed by Wanner was employment opportunities in the federal government for those with physical and mental disabilities. Gainful employment for those with disabilities is important to him, as according to statistics from the Department of Labor, the employment rate of those with disabilities in 2014 was 17.1% compared to the 64.6% rate for those without disabilities. Wanner related that because he cannot walk or use his arms in the usual sense, he believed that he could do nothing, and that taking math and science courses would be a waste of time. However, with the convincing of a friend, he majored in Wildlife Biology and has now worked as a Public Affairs Specialist for The National Forestry Service since 2004 after previously holding a position at Prescott National Forest in Arizona for 12 years. Wanner stated that with the constant increase in technology, more jobs can be filled by those with disabilities, which is a good thing, as according to the Institute of Corporate Productivity, 75% of surveyed employers said that rated their disabled employees as either good or very good when it came to work quality, motivation, engagement, integration with co-workers, dependability, and attendance. He added that having a disability does not mean that one is incapable of doing things, as he demonstrated with his specially customized car that he showed before the event truly began. 

As with physical disabilities, mental disabilities proved to be a focus of the Forum. Many people from all walks of life suffer from anxiety disorders. However, veterans often have it especially bad, as many do not wish to take the time to empathize or even understand what coming home from a war feels like. To that end, George Myers, a student and a veteran, delivered a very personal speech about his struggles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This mental illness is recognized by the American Disabilities Act, and typically involves vivid and horrific flashbacks to a traumatic event. Myers asked those listening to give those with PTSD a listening ear, to not force them to talk if they do not wish to, and most importantly to be patient with those that have it. 

After the speeches were delivered, attendees were allowed to wander about the room and look at the boards set up. Each of them had something unique to offer, including a display presented by Concord University’s Art Department. The display was art designed for the visually impaired. Through the use of painted and blurred goggles, attendees were able to experience art without the luxury of sight. After some time, a drawing for a veteran’s only raffle was held. Bonner Scholar Keri Svendson presented the prize of a handcrafted model gun to the winner George Myers, ending the event. The Forum was a learning experience, and showed that with proper motivation and the right attitude, anyone can succeed. 

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