Instead of going into the Campus Center to grab a bite to eat on Tuesday, March 29, students without disabilities were able to taste what it meant to live a life unknown to them at Challenge Day to be Challenged.
The Coalition for Disability Awareness (CFDA) hosted the event in front of the statue of Walt Whitman. The club, which was founded by President Darlene Hemerka in the Fall of 2010, seeks to raise awareness of the struggles an individual with a disability goes through.
Tables formed a semi-circle in front of the 19th century poet. One table allowed students to participate in a Visual Challenge. The other side of the walkway contained a table for a Learning Challenge. A Physical Challenge station was closer to the Paul Robeson library.
Each challenge had a purpose. According to club president Darlene Hermerka, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, “We hope to give participants a better understanding of what it is like to be disabled.”
As the set up took place, onlookers and attendees could see the Visual Challenge table, which was designed to simulate the life of a blind person. It contained white bread and peanut butter and jelly. A clear pitcher was filled with water to wash down the common American meal. While food and a beverage were provided, the table also contained a blind fold, which may have fit the schema of a martial arts training session.
Participants were asked to make a sandwich while blindfolded and pour their own water. Students used a knife to spread peanut butter and jelly on white bread. It became clear they were having difficulty with this task. After the blindfold was removed, they got to see firsthand how good their sandwich making skills were.
Ryan Olshefski who participated in the Visual Challenge said, “It’s different. It’s very difficult. I couldn’t make a sandwich. I had an understanding of how difficult it is, and now, I actually got to experience it.”
The awareness of life as a disabled person for students seemed to have changed after participating in one of the challenges. Many were amazed at how difficult the tasks were to perform.
A disability as described in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says a person is disabled if they have body or psychological impairment, which greatly impacts there life in more than one area.
Location was key to the amount of people who showed up on the cool, sunny day. Hemerka spoke about the the event’s attendance. She said, “I’m pleasantly surprised. Well, we did challenge day last semester, but it was inside. So, outside definitely helped our visibility.”
Rutgers-Camden students came to the event for different reasons. Some students were prodded by a friend to check out “handicapped day.” Others heard junior Aaron Bradley, who has been blind for most of his life, DJ the event.
The Learning Challenge drew sparse attention. Those who came to the station were asked to read a white sheet of paper with characters, which may have looked like Hebrew at first glance. The station was designed to help students understand what it was like to have Dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a reading disability where the individual’s brain has a difficult time picking up and processing symbols. For instance, a dyslexic may read kitten and think of cat.
Vanessa Reid, who is a freshman studying business management, decided she would come to the Learning Challenge station. The freshman read the typed sheet of paper and found it was very difficult.
As a business management major, she realized it would present many difficulties to her learning the coursework.
“It would be extremely hard,” Reid said after realizing the difficulties of having a learning disability like Dyslexia, “Personally, I don’t know how I would do it.”
The Physical Challenge station was the most popular at the event with students scattered among wheel chairs, walkers and crutches. There were rubber cones of various colors staggered, leading to a bright orange cone. Students who decided to try the walker were asked to wear 5 lb weights on both ankles and a physical therapy band around their ankles. Their goal was to weave around the cones to the end and navigate back to where they started. Damian Niescior, who is in his freshman year, went through the course with a wheel chair and walker. Niescior said it took time to get acclimated to the wheel chair the wheel chair took time to but was easier than the walker.
“It was a lot harder than the wheel chair,” Niescior said about the walker, “It was really tough to move my feet.”
It is a common event for a student to make the journey from the Armitage building to the Campus Center. Students pack the concrete walkway joining the buildings everyday between classes. Individuals with disabilities must engage in the same journey as those without a disability.
Niescior talked about what it would be like to use a walker and go from one building to another. Candidly, he said, “Extremely tough. Extremely tough.”
About the event’s impact on his life he affirmed, “It’s definitely changed my opinion on how I see my own problems when compared to theirs.”