VIDEO: NKU to raise awareness about learning disabilities

This October, students, staff and faculty alike will notice a few additions while walking around campus. Disability awareness signs will be lining the sidewalks and posters in the Student Union. They will feature 32 students brave enough to state, “I have a disability, and I am not ashamed to talk about it.”

October is Disability Awareness Month and NKU’s Disability Program is setting up a campaign, Time 2 Change, to break the stigma about disabilities by trying to get the NKU community to talk  about it and support one another.

“I think it’s the right first step in breaking this stigma,” Cindy Knox, assistant director of Disability Programs and Services, said.

The program is a guide for students who have been diagnosed with a disability and helps them with school by allowing them extra testing time.

In addition to assisting student with learning disabilities, the program also helps those with restricted diets by offering deferred meal plans throughout their college experience.

“There are 600 students involved in this program out of the 15,000 students on campus,” Knox said. “The top three percent of these disabilities are hidden. These include anxiety, depression or OCD.”

Knox said that many people find it easier to understand disabilities that they can actually see. Mental disabilities are hidden, which makes it difficult for people to process the hardships faced by those individuals.

“We need to be able to talk about it,” Knox said. “I believe talking will improve attitudes and increase confidence in students.”

Jordan Rhude, an education major, began her college career in 2007 before taking time off because she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. Now, Rhude is set to graduate in May.  

“I came back a couple years ago and I absolutely loved it. The atmosphere is different this time,” Rhude said. “I’m outgoing, teachers are phenomenal, and I love it here. It feels like a community.”

When Rhude started at NKU she didn’t feel comfortable about herself and therefore didn’t feel comfortable talking about her disability. Yet, being a part of the education department and having teachers pull her out of her shell, Rhude started to realize there were students exactly like her.

“For me it was more a competition that wasn’t a competition,” Rhude said. “I just wanted to be more accepted exactly how I was, but I didn’t want to be who I was.”

The hardest part about taking tests for her was that she would psych herself out beforehand.

“I would get really nervous about tests, because it would take me longer and I would see everyone would finish up their tests and it would really discourage me,” Rhude said. “I would beat myself up, take longer and stress myself more for the next assignment.”

She knew these were all little things that she needed to overcome. Rhude hopes when she talks about her issues she will inspire other students exactly like her.

“It took me forever to get here,” Rhude said confidently. “But I got here and there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t try.”

Rhude believes that talking about disabilities causes people to learn about themselves and others.

“I’ve met a lot of people like me through the program that talk about it,” Rhude said. “One person opens up, then another person opens up, and another person. It’s been awesome!”

Brooklyn Butler, a senior at NKU, held herself back from self-doubt and letting opportunities pass.

“Being insecure is something everyone goes through, but when you have a disability you are more intentional about everything you do,” Butler said. “You always have it on your mind. You think, am I going to do this wrong, am I going to do this or am I going to make a mistake?”  

Butler explained the academic process wasn’t the hard part, because she could accomplish those things on her own. But speaking to teachers and others in a social setting became difficult, especially when she was talking about her disability.

“I think in order for people to understand they have to be more competent for it,” Butler said “Disability, no matter the type, people have to be understanding and accepting and learn how to adapt to that person.”

Students within the program believe that more people need to talk about hidden disabilities without worrying about being politically correct or worrying about offending anyone.  

Junior Elizabeth Walden said she is comfortable academically, but she feels like she needs additional help in certain areas.

Although Walden has had a positive experience at NKU, sometimes she feels that help is hard to come by.

“One semester, I had a teacher say I wouldn’t pass her course and wouldn’t go along with the required accommodations,” Walden said.

Walden said that as a student with a disability there is definitely some anger and sadness that comes with her situation.

“It made me want to talk about my disability a lot more. I used to be ashamed of it, but it’s a part of me,” Walden said. “It makes me different and makes me love myself more. I want people to know just because we have disabilities does not mean we are all broken.”

In her first year at NKU, Elizabeth Hatter has found that moving on her own, and away from the past, has caused her to embrace who she is.

“I’ve been embracing it more because it’s something I will live with the rest of my life,” Hatter said. “So, I need to embrace the day and take on anything thrown my way.”

Within her first couple of months as a college student she has made several friends and enjoys her professors. Hatter said she is proud of herself everyday that she gets up, goes to class and hangs out with friends with no issues.

“My disability does not define me,” Hatter said. “It’s a part of me I’ve learned to accept myself and my friends accept me. It’s not hard to accept, you just need to know that I’m not different from anybody else except my disability.”

Hatter does explain the hardest part about having a disability is telling people about it because they immediately start to shy away because they are afraid and don’t know what to say.

“My disability does not hold me back,” Hatter said.

The Time 2 Change Campaign is just the beginning of getting students and faculty to talk about disabilities in the month of October. The Wheelchair Basketball Event on Oct. 26 from 5-7p.m. at the Campus Recreation Center will be another event the Disability Program has in order to create a sense of equality on campus.