Access and Disability Alliance hosts disability awareness month

By Brittney Fleshman

This April marks the sixth year that The Access and Disability Alliance at Cal Poly Pomona will host events throughout the month in celebration of Disability Awareness Month.

Cathy Schmitt Whitaker, executive director of Student Health and Counseling Services and president of the alliance, kicked off the first event, “Unlimited Possibilities,” by introducing the keynote speaker, Jennifer Kumiyama.

“Jennifer was fabulous, and she shared how she created and broke down a barrier for herself,” said Whitaker.

“Unlimited Possibilities” was held on Thursday during U-Hour in the Bronco Student Center and featured Kumiyama, an actress, singer and advocate who was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, a congenital condition that causes joints to permanently lock in bent or extended positions.

Kumiyama shared with the audience how living with a disability has affected her. Mostly known for her role in Disney’s “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular” at California Adventure, Kumiyama faced adversity and followed her dreams to success.

Kumiyama also starred in the TV series “PopStars2” and movie “The Sessions”.

“I don’t think of myself being any different from anybody else,” said Kumiyama “Often times I forget that I have a disability until I encounter stairs or a vehicle that’s not wheelchair accessible. It’s taught me to rely on other people ” not just family, but also strangers.”

Kumiyama began by explaining her childhood. As the oldest of six children, she had a passion for music and theatre. She sang in a church choir at the age of six, joined the school choir in middle school and became the president of the drama club in high school.

“I remember being a teenager and being completely uncomfortable with my body,” said Kumiyama in reference to her tattoos, which she began getting when she was of a legal age in order to distract people from noticing her disability. “I think once you start embracing those differences and appreciating them, they become more beautiful. Not just to you, but to the world.”

Kumiyama began studying music education in college, but soon realized that it wasn’t the path for her. She decided to pursue her performing dream and attended auditions, which soon brought her success.

“The one person in life that can hold you back is yourself,” said Kumiyama. “I think the sooner people learn to love themselves, the sooner things will start to happen for the better.”

Kumiyama believes that there is much more to be done involving the American Disability Association.

“We have the right to enter [any] public building, like a shopping center, and [have] it be completely accessible,” said Kumiyama.

Kumiyama believes designs should be fully accessible to begin with so that people with disabilities can use restrooms, ramps and doors.

“Right now I think we use technology to make life easy, not because we can’t do it but because we want the easy way,” said Kumiyama. “With people with disabilities, it’s the only way.”

The event was finished with a video showing Kumiyama singing on stage with a pleased audience that applauded and cheered for her.

The next event was a movie night on Friday featuring “The Theory of Everything.”

The main character in the movie was given a shocking and “earth-shattering” diagnosis at the young age of 21, which caused him struggles in his life.

A panel discussion followed the movie and was moderated by Suketu Bhavsar, the director of the Kellogg Honors College and a physics professor.

“Unlimited Possibilities at Your Library” was the next event and is still ongoing, as it features a variety of books related to the topic of disability that will be available until June 12 in the University Library.

“Many struggle with identifying, explaining and dismantling commonly held myths and stereotypes that shape perceptions of people with disabilities and understanding how to focus on their ability versus disability,” said Dawn Finley, job location and development coordinator at the Career Center and Ability Ally’s training coordinator.

“Among students, this can lead to low self-advocacy and negatively affect their academic success. Having awareness for people with disabilities is important in creating an inclusive campus environment ” one in which access and equity exist for all.”

“Pets Supporting People” is the next upcoming event, which will take place April 28 in the University Plaza. This event will feature CPP professor and animal therapy expert Aubrey Fine. Students will also have the opportunity to interact with many therapy animals from Danny’s Farm.

Also that day, the event “Art with Impact and Stigma Reduction” will take place in Ursa Minor and will consist of screenings of short films created by individuals who have mental health conditions, followed by a discussion and workshop.

The films are shown “to increase the awareness and understanding about disability, and the impact that their mental health condition has on them,” said Whitaker.

The final event of the month will be the “Veterans Mental Health 101 Workshop” on April 29 in the BSC, Ursa Major C. The workshop will detail mental health concerns that student veterans may experience while adjusting to the classroom environment.

“Through our programming, it is our aim to increase awareness, educate and to stress the idea that a disability should not be seen as a limitation, but rather as a sign of perseverance, strength and determination,” said Finley.

Kumiyama also hopes that these events help the university know that having a disability isn’t life ruining.

“I think people with disabilities owe it to the world to show them how amazing and how beautiful having a disability really is,” said Kumiyama.


Sungah Choi / The Poly Post


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