Grit. Resiliency. Resolve. Courage.
Most successful college athletes require these characteristics to go pro. Most college students with disabilities require these characteristics to go to class.
Having two adult children living with disabilities in her life, Carmen Varela has worked in disability rights work for 25 years. As the director of the Bob Murphy Access Center for over a year, she has seen how education can open doors and improve the quality of life for students with disabilities.
“When you have a lifetime of having to overcome barriers … just to be able to participate equally and be a part of things, people are gritty,” Varela said. “I think our students are exceptional in that they have found ways to compensate.”
This is the type of attitude that the Student Recreation and Wellness Center staff hope to remind non-disabled Long Beach State students with its Inclusive program. In addition to the state-of-the-art recreational facility’s accessible building features and equipment, the SRWC’s inclusive sports events, such as wheelchair volleyball and beep baseball, seek to eliminate barriers to participation and exercise.
“You forget about the simple things people with disabilities can struggle with,” said Erin Lightbourn, a fourth-year kinesiology major and rec sports student co-lead. “It lets you see there’s other sports besides just your traditional basketball [and] volleyball.”
The inclusive events are officiated and offer prizes to all students, faculty and alumni who participate. However, event attendance has mostly consisted of non-disabled students.
“It doesn’t matter what height you are or how much strength you have, everyone’s at the same level,” said Justin Manzon, a fourth-year business administration major.
While working at the SRWC intramurals desk or in his free time, Manzon said he especially enjoys participating in the Inclusive program’s wheelchair basketball events. Taking place at the rock wall and Main Gym A, the events tend to be laid-back and focus on the challenge of being able to adjust to the “level playing field” for those that do not have a disability.
“There’s one called goalball, that’s really hard,” Manzon said. “You’re blindfolded and then you have to use your other senses, like hearing, to grab a ball and you only can hear the ball.”
While the Inclusive program has been successful in creating environments where non-disabled participants can gain a new perspective towards those with physical disabilities, they are working towards having an equal mix of non-disabled and disabled students competing together at the events.
In hopes of increasing participation from students with disabilities this semester, the SRWC is working in collaboration with the BMAC.
The BMAC provides a multitude of support services for 1,800 disabled CSULB students each semester who come in voluntarily. These services include testing accommodations, disabled/medical parking and emotional support animals, to specific programs for those with autism, learning disabilities or are deaf or hard of hearing.
“This is kind of my drop in the bucket of humanity of how I [can] make a difference,” Varela said, “By being [at the Bob Murphy Access Center] and showing that students [with disabilities] get served, they have a voice and choice with their services … so that they can be ready to join the workforce.”
Varela says that increased participation from disabled students in the SRWC’s Inclusive program would be a win for all. She suggests that the BMAC and the SRWC should create focus groups to see what direction the Inclusive program should move next.
“Let’s figure out what the students want and what the students need, and then go from there and look at that as an opportunity to create something, modify what they have already, or to figure that piece out,” Varela said. “The proportion of students with disabilities on campus that are identified through our office is pretty small, but we know that it’s at least double that just based on national population statistics.”
The Inclusive program will host its first event of the semester, the Inclusive Sports Expo, Wednesday, Sept. 18 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m at the SRWC.