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SANTA CLARITA : Experiment at College Leads to Insight Into Needs of Disabled

Board President Linda Cubbage walked in someone else’s walker Monday and she didn’t like what she found on the College of the Canyons campus.

She discovered physical barriers ranging from doorways too heavy to open to elevators too small to comfortably accommodate the walker or even a wheelchair.

While the Santa Clarita Community College District board has patiently waited for state funds to correct such barriers to disabled students, Cubbage said the experience has prompted her to persuade fellow trustees to seek private funding in order to make life more bearable for the college’s 147 disabled students.

“We just can’t wait until the state finds money,” said Cubbage. “I realized today my impatience has turned to anger.”

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Cubbage joined 12 other administrators, students and faculty and staff members who simulated disabilities during the college’s first “Handicap Awareness Day,” organized by the student-run Handicapped Awareness Program. She imitated reduced mobility for several hours by using a walker and wearing heavy gloves.

Some participants donned blindfolds. Others wore back braces. Others sat in wheelchairs and taught classes or sat behind their desks to do their work. All were paired with disabled students, who showed them the ropes of getting around the hilly campus as would a person who is deaf or blind or paraplegic.

“Every time I tried to open an office door, it was very difficult,” said Jan Keller, an associate dean of learning resources, who rolled a wheelchair for half the day. “A slight incline is a real trauma.”

Bruce Pelkey, the college’s director of Disabled Student Services and Programs, said the disabled students considered the event a success because it taught able-bodied people what the disabled struggle with every day, including such basic problems as buying a soda from a too-high vending machine.

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“There’s a tremendous need for people to understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes,” said Pelkey, who pretended deafness part of the day. “It really helps build awareness.”


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