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Just ask

Students create video to answer complex questions about disabilities

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  • Story by Lisa Bruce
  • Photo by Shane Epping
  • Published: Sept. 26, 2007

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Steve Cox

That reminds me of a story. When I first met my roommate, the guy that I'm buying the house with, he won't admit it, but the one thing that annoyed me and the reason me and him kind of had an argument when we first met was he ran out from behind me to open the door for me. And, unless you're there first, and open the door as a courtesy, I don't mind that, but if you run from behind me because you think I’m not able to open a door, that’s what makes me mad.

Christy Welliver

There was a time in my life that it was like “I can do that myself,” and it’s for sure a lot of disabled people still today that are out there “I can do it myself.” But I love now just looking up and saying “Thanks. Thanks,” and saying thanks all day long and smiling at people and they smile back and I might take a day that wasn’t going good for them at all and then all of the sudden (gestures)…I just love it.

Steve Cox and Christy Welliver offer their perspectives on people opening the door for them in Just Ask. A transcript is available.

It seems like a simple concept — don’t know what to do? Just ask. But a group of occupational therapy students found that many people feel uncomfortable asking questions about disabilities.

“A lot of these questions really hit home to us, and we’re occupational therapy students,” says Jordan Bunn. “I wonder how many people out there are totally clueless.”

The students, part of an eight-week summer class on developing community-based programs, decided to create a video to address disability etiquette. Occupational therapy seniors Bunn, Jesse Langille, Stephanie Iovaldi, Amanda Babor, Katie Kittle and Erin Rogaczewski created the project. Scott Wilson, a local videographer, volunteered his time to shoot and edit the piece.

“A lot of times you walk through your life and just kind of don’t think about it,” Langille says. “We wanted to do a project where people do have to think about it.”

The most recent widely-available video about the subject, The Ten Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities, was made in 1992. It offers lots of good information, the students say, but it’s out-of-date.

Asking questions

Should you open the door for a person in a wheelchair? It depends. Is it rude to look at a deaf person’s interpreter? Can you touch someone who is not able to shake your hand? How do you let a visually-impaired person know who is in the room with them? Just Ask, the student-created video, examines these questions.

“Don’t assume anything,” Kittle says. “Take it all out of your mind. Assumptions can just be so painful.”

Just Ask covers visual, hearing, speech and mobility impairments. The students found no easy answers exist. It really depends on the person and their perspective.

Bob Pund says that he often feels bad for people who get embarrassed when they go to shake his hand and realize that he can't use his hands. "I'm not offended at all by that," Pund says. "I think it would be appropriate for them to touch my shoulder in my case. Other people may not like that."

The variety of responses participants gave to similar questions surprised Giulianne Krug, assistant clinical professor of occupational therapy and instructor for the class. “Any response that could have come out was pretty well reflected in the video. I think that we all thought it would be pretty straightforward,” Krug says.

Alt. text

Bob Pund uses his mouth with the device pictured above to turn pages in a book, hit buttons on a remote and perform other tasks.

Spreading the word

Just Ask showed at the School of Health Professions booth and on the Mizzou Central big screen at the Missouri State Fair, at a disabilities conference at Case Western Reserve University, and for the Great Plains Americans with Disabilities Act group. A class at Mizzou uses it. The students hope to make Just Ask available to anyone who wants it.

“I think that many people who think they are comfortable find that they have something to learn from the video,” Bunn says.

Read more in:  Family & Community

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012