People of all abilities gathered at Ursa Major on April 17 for the United With Differences (UWD) event for empowerment through storytelling. 

Paul An, a fourth-year business administration student and founder of UWD, created this event to allow other people with disabilities, besides himself, share their stories. 

From 6 to 8 p.m., ethnic and women’s studies professor Shayda Kafai, along with alumna Acacia Kapusta (’11, hospitality management studies), second-year agricultural science student Cheyenne Caballero, liberal studies professor Rodney Hume-Dawson and guest/keynote speaker Steph Aiello, shared their stories to an audience of 180 people, including President Soraya Coley. 

“As disabled folks, we don’t often get a chance to tell our stories and our own voices,” Kafai said.

Kafai explored the topic of internalized sanism, a form of oppression that tells us sane people are normal, while discriminating against others’ traits or conditions; Kapusta talked about her neuromuscular disease and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease — a disease that degenerates the nerves; Caballero about her battle with depression; and Hume-Dawson spoke about his disease, poliomyelitis — caused by poliovirus. 

Audience members were encouraged to either snap or clap their hands whenever one of the speakers said something that resonated with them.   

Aiello shared her series of life-changing experiences and the experience that led her to become disabled. 

“Showing people how they can live their lives in a full way, in a loving way and educate them on how to be independent … is something I never thought I would be able to say eight years ago lying in a hospital bed,” Aiello said. 

She continues to share her journey as a quadriplegic through social media and will become the first person with a disability to be featured in an Ulta Beauty campaign this fall.

Steph Aiello will be the first person with a disability to be featured in an Ulta Beauty campaign. (Michelle Quintero / The Poly Post)

Ronaldo Leandro, a fourth-year biochemistry student, said he enjoyed the event because it touched on a topic that is usually not heard of. 

“Getting exposed to the speakers really broadened my mind and knowledge on the topic,” Leandro said. “It also allowed for me to be informed on how to help people and offer help rather than assume that they need help off the bat.” 

The Muscular Dystrophy Association was not able to make the event to collect donations, but donations are being accepted through unitedwithdifferences.com or United19.eventbrite.com.

An said the event meant a lot to him.

“I felt excited that many people truly enjoyed the event and was touched by the stories,” he said. “I think UWD has changed the perspectives of those that attended by giving them understanding and courage to hear some more stories from other people with disabilities. They will also realize that everyone, in fact, has differences and that’s perfectly cool.”

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