USF Manatee-Sarasota hosts 'Disabilities Awareness Week'

eearl@bradenton.comFebruary 2, 2013 

MANATEE -- The USF Sarasota-Manatee campus hosted its first annual "Disabilities Awareness Week" this past week to acknowledge the different physical and learning challenges that students face.

Each day was dedicatedto a specific impairment, and the series ended Fridaywith a focus on learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and assistive technology.

Although October is officially Disabilities Awareness Month, Pat Lakey, the disability services coordinator at USF, decided to host the event toward the beginning of the new semester.

Lakey oversaw the event in collaboration with the Physical Access Workgroup and the USF studentactivities board, Bulls on Parade.

"This week gave students a platform to share the challenges of their disabilities and gave their peers a unique opportunity to ask questions in a comfortable environment," Lakey said.

During the course ofthe week, students, staffand faculty participated in activities wearing goggles that simulate different types of vision loss, navigating the campus in wheelchairs and walkers, and wearing earplugs to experience what it is like to go about their routines with a hearing impairment.

Students also experimented with programs on the PBS website Misunderstood Minds, which simulates the effects of ADHD and difficulties with auditory processing.

Lakey explained that the event was not only designed to share the obstacles of those with disabilities, but also to demonstrate adaptive technology.

Blind members of the community demonstrated the program JAWS, which aids vision-impaired computer users by reading aloud what they are typing.

Students tested a voice-to-text computer program called Dragon Naturally Speaking, which, over time, learns the user's voice and speech patterns.

A variety of local agencies teamed up with USF, in-cluding the Family Networkon Disabilities of Manasota, the Manasota Lighthouse for the Blind, the Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Suncoast Center for Independent Living, and More Alike than Different, an organization that speaks to elementary schools about sensitivity toward others with disabilities.

"Students with learning disabilities can still achieve as much as other students can. They just do it in a different way," said Mary Smith, the executive director of the Family Network of Disabilities of Manasota.

While education majors were encouraged to attend, several other professors also integrated the events of the week into their course schedules.

"This information is not just for educators; disabilities are universal," said Lakey, adding he would like to see the campus host the event every year.

"Students with disabilities need to know that there are a wide variety of resources available," he said.

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