United with Differences panel proposes disability training

The speaker panel at United with Differences (UWD), an event put together Feb. 13 to unite people of all abilities through the power of storytelling, sparked a conversation about starting a mandatory disability training at Cal Poly Pomona. 

The speaker panel consisted of four individuals from CPP with both visible and invisible disabilities. With only five minutes each to share their lifelong struggle of growing up with individual hardships, they all resonated with a lack of awareness and accessibility in the environments that each grew up in. 

Catherine Schmitt-Whitaker, the executive director of accessible technology, proposed that there should be disability training, like “the sexual harassment training. If we had something like that, that was required of everybody, I think that would be great,” Schmitt-Whitaker said. “I think the more we can provide education and information and awareness, the stronger it is for everyone.”

Panel speakers Christine Whitaker, Paul An (middle) and Armand Bujanda meeting each other before the event.
(Kristy Ramirez | The Poly Post)

This year’s UWD event simply sparked the conversation for the possible implementation of a mandatory disability training. Title IX requires undergraduate and graduate students to complete mandatory training having to do with sexual assault and other similar issues. “I think if they made a mandatory disability training, it would be neglected and they wouldn’t be engaged,” said Zane Landin, a fourth-year public relations student.

The speakers connected to the audience through their personal stories, often pertaining to the struggle of growing up in environments that aren’t accessible to them. Schmitt-Whitaker introduced her story by chanting “four eyes” as the children would do throughout her elementary school years, with an underlying understanding of them for not having the resources available to know any better. 

Events like UWD start conversations to improve the day-to-day lives of individuals who are often stigmatized or unseen. Third-year business management and human resources student Paul An is a motivational speaker with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), who recognized the need for an event about people with disabilities. DMD is a severe type of muscular dystrophy which causes muscle weakness and worsens quickly at around the age of 4 in boys.

An founded the UWD event in 2019 to create a space for more people with disabilities to share their stories and answer questions that people may have for them. “I wanted to get rid of all the stereotypes around disabilities and bring the community together,” An said. 

As he grew up, he had doctors telling him that he was going to die at a young age because of his DMD, which had significant deleterious effects on his life.

By not having that long life ahead guaranteed, the stereotype that people with disabilities can’t live life as fully as anyone else is associated with many disabilities. An chose to take up the view that “no one is guaranteed tomorrow,” and he makes sure to share that perspective when he speaks.

Some attendees gave thanks to the speakers for sharing their stories and to Landin for putting on the event.

After struggling with fundraising for the first event, An decided that it would be helpful if a council helped with the funds for the next UWD. With that, the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) council took over this year’s event. 

Countless meetings between An and the president of the CLASS council, Landin, put the plans for this year’s UWD into gear in October 2019 with the funds from the council that are meant to put on events like these. “I am super passionate about this community,” Landin said. “I hope there’s a group of dedicated students that want to do it (next year).” 

For those interested in helping with or planning the next UWD event, contact Landin at zdlandin@cpp.edu. To learn more about what you can do to generate more accessibility, contact Schmitt-Whitaker at clshmitt@cpp.edu. 

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