Disability Awareness Experience

Mark Huerkamp


The MUW Office of Diversity Education and Programs and the MUW Leadership Program organized the “Disability Awareness Experience,” on March 12 at 6 p.m. The experience combined interaction with expert presentations to increase appreciation of people with disabilities such as mental, visual, physical or auditory impairments.

Expert presentation came from Chas Wheeler, a doctoral counseling candidate at Mississippi State University; Lynn Hanson, a speech-language pathology instructor from MUW; and Donna Burlingame, also a speech-pathology instructor from MUW. The presenters defined awareness, why awareness is crucial and how to provide it.

Attendees were invited to participate in four activities designed to simulate what it is like to have a hearing, vision, physical and/or impairment. Participants put on goggles to intentionally limit their vision, button shirts or tie shoes with only one hand, study or read with aggressive distractions and put on headphones to hear at diminished or excessive volume.

Jessica Harpole, the director of Student Life, assisted at a hearing-loss experience booth to help bring insight to what it’s like to have hearing impairment and rely on hearing accommodations.

According to Harpole, even cochlear implants may be demanding devices.

“They pick up on all sounds, not just voices, so there is a lot of background noise so that way they can see that it is a learned function, and that you would have to block out all the background noise and just focus on what is being said to you,” she said.

Wheeler uses his personal experience with a brain injury to connect with audiences and share the urgency of disability awareness, especially with regard to brain injury.

Wheeler holds a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, is a certified rehabilitation counselor and is co-founder and supporter of the Brain Injury Advocacy Group at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.   

Wheeler suffered a brain injury after he was struck by an automobile in 2007.

“That was nothing compared to what I had to do cognitively,” he said. “I had to relearn how to learn, talk, write and how to remember.”     

Burlingame reviewed and developed the instruction from each impairment demonstration, detailing their definitions, accommodations and the broad degree to which an impairment may affect a person. 

“Some [impairments] are obvious and some are not, so think about how