National leadership fraternity Pi Kappa Phi wants to change how the public views people with disabilities. Members took their mission to the next level Thursday when they organized an event to raise awareness about accessibility on campus.
Through their philanthropy — Push America, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization — Pi Kappa Phi members sponsored 30 students to give up walking for a day and see what life is like for a person in a wheelchair. The goal of the event: to file a report for grant money to improve campus accessibility as well as give students firsthand experience of the difficulties of navigating campus with a disability.
“Our main goal was to show how accessible or not accessible the University of Oregon campus is on a normal basis,” said Eric Dawson, event coordinator and Pi Kappa Phi brother. “In a lot of cases we’re finding out that it is not accessible in certain buildings where you can get to the first floor, but not the classrooms.”
Dawson says he hopes to foster change through this event and show just how flawed this campus might be. He personally organized the wheelchair rentals and recruited fellow Fraternity and Sorority Life members to participate in the event.
“At the end of the day we’re hoping to possibly get grants for the parts of campus that are not accessible and make a change,” Dawson said. “Volunteering with Push America I’ve gotten a great chance to get connecting and realize there is nothing different about people with disabilities. I felt very strong about putting on this event because it hurts me to see them get mistreated.”
Gamma Phi Beta sister Jennifer Dodge was one of 10 sorority women who participated in Thursday’s awareness event. She said her experience was revealing because of how stressful it was to navigate campus without the use of her legs.
“I decided to volunteer because I thought it would be an eye-opening experience to see what it’s like for people on a daily basis,” Dodge said. “It was really tiring. After the first 20 minutes I was really overwhelmed having the anxiety to not know if I’d be able to get anywhere.”
Dodge says she fell at one point, triggering sympathy from passersby who helped her back into her chair. She was surprised by the compassion — and lack thereof — from strangers across campus.
“I got a lot of people brushing me off, but others who help push me and be friendly and ask how I was doing, so learning how people respond to disabled people firsthand was my biggest takeaway,” she said. “We need to not assume things about people because you never know what they might be struggling with throughout their day.”
Pi Kappa Phi’s media point person, A.J. Bell, says that his fraternity pushed for this event because they identified a lack of interest from other groups on this particular issue. Bell feels particularly passionate about the issue because of his personal connection through family and friends.
“We’ve never seen anything like this on campus from any group whether that be greek or non-greek,” Bell said. “I have friends who go here to the university who are disabled, so we thought it would change the way people looked at them.”