Students with disabilities speak

Walking to class, using safe elevators and discerning speech in noisy rooms aren’t concerns for most UVM students, but for students like senior Toby MacNutt or freshmen Grady Congelton, some of these little day-to-day occurrences can pose big challenges.  “I have profound hearing loss, and I use a cochlear implant to hear,” Congleton said at last week’s VOICES panel on ability. “Only about 200,000 people in the world have this implant.”Congleton said that one of the biggest obstacles he faces on campus is being in noisy places like dining halls or rooms that have poor acoustics because they affect his ability to hear. MacNutt, who also attended the VOICES discussion, said that sometimes the difficulty with his disability, which impairs his ability to walk, comes from other students. “Most of the struggles I’ve faced are because of people not thinking,” MacNutt said. “There is such a tiny visibly disabled population on campus, so no one is really forcing the thought process,” he said. “When I arrived on campus, I was still invisible if I wanted to be.” Annie Cressey, a health educator for Health Promotions at the Center for Health and Wellbeing, facilitated the VOICES event.”I think it is beneficial to hear peers out of the everyday context talk about their experiences,” Cressey said. MacNutt said he  agreed that the discussion would help. “The first step in getting people to deal with a problem is to let them know there is a problem,” MacNutt said. “Be aware of how you interact with people.” Both panelists made a point to convey the importance of Education and advocacy.”I went to a school for the deaf in Northampton, Mass. What they taught me was to advocate and educate. Education is key. It’s just what I’m doing now, I’m educating you guys,” Congleton said. Cressey also serves as the advisor for Active Minds, a student group whose mission is to spread awareness and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and mental health illnesses, Cressey said. The Office of Accommodations, Consultation, Collaboration, and Educational Support Services (ACCESS), provides support services to students with disabilities. These services include, but aren’t limited to, exam accommodations, note-taking technology and meetings with specialists, their website states.Both MacNutt and Congleton said that the ACCESS has helped them. “I’ve had a very good experience with ACCESS,” Congleton said. “They provide a transcriber and a computer so I can see what anyone is saying,” he said.”ACCESS has been a safety net,” MacNutt said.Though MacNutt and Congleton have both been presented with challenges in their lives, they said their hopes and ambitions overall haven’t changed. “I feel like I’ve set up clear and healthy expectations for my life,” MacNutt said. “Why do I have to subscribe to anyone’s definition of success?Congelton said that noticing  people’s differences is important.   “You see people walking around campus, they’re looking down at their cell phones, or notebooks,” Congleton said. “I want people to look up, see different people and see what challenges and successes other people have had with their disabilities and their lives.”