Disabled students hold week of events to reduce barrier, foster understanding

Judith Lung brought her service dog, Van Dyke, to the guide dog session on Wednesday to share her experiences and give an idea of what daily life is like for disabled students.
Michael Drummond/Staff
Judith Lung brought her service dog, Van Dyke, to the guide dog session on Wednesday to share her experiences and give an idea of what daily life is like for disabled students.

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As Judith Lung walks toward Lower Sproul, she can smell the aroma from the Golden Bear Cafe, hear the water of Strawberry Creek rushing nearby and feel the pavement’s incline near Sather Gate.

These are sensory details one might take for granted, but they are all-important for Lung, a sophomore at UC Berkeley who has been blind since she was diagnosed with retinal cancer when she was 1 month old.

Most UC Berkeley students do not understand the challenges students like Lung face on a daily basis, but the campus community had the opportunity to become more acquainted with such experiences last week during Disability Awareness Week, an annual event organized by the Disabled Students Union to reduce the barrier between disabled students and others on campus.

“We’re people just like everybody else,” said Hamza Jaka, the co-president of the DSU. “Disability Awareness Week for me is about getting to know the people. We want to help them learn, and the best way to learn is by talking with people and educating yourself.”

Events last week included a resource fair, a panel discussion on the history of the Disability Rights Movement, a guide dog session and a movie screening.

Lung brought her service dog, Van Dyke, to the guide dog session on Wednesday to share her experiences and give an idea of what daily life is like for disabled students.

During her first year, Lung struggled to acclimate to the new environment and become independent. Even today, Lung said, it can be tricky to make sure she doesn’t run into poles or benches.

“There could be more challenges to work through, but there are always ways to get through them,” Lung said.

Lung, an English major, uses a Braille computer to read hundreds of pages for her assignments as well as to listen to music and access Facebook.

According to Ann Kwong, vice president of internal affairs at the DSU, when people are better able to relate to disabled students, they help transcend the one trait that most often defines disabled students: their disability.

“See past the disability — don’t just focus on the disability,” Kwong said. “Through further understanding, I hope that there’s more connections both ways to help dispel misconceptions.”

Lung’s passion for music motivated her to immerse herself in music theory courses and to learn to play the Indonesian gamelan, an instrument resembling the shape of a xylophone.

She said that Disability Awareness Week allowed her to share her story while showing that disabled students are just as competent — and just as human — as others without disabilities.

“I think the general message for the public is that just through having some wit and some resilience, people are going to be able to overcome their challenges to accomplish what they hope to,” Lung said.

Gladys Rosario covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @gladysrosario93.