Wheelchair projects roll onto campus

Julia Perkins

Senior physical therapy students Keith Yatauro and Valerie Thompson, and Professor Nicki Dakis-Gallagher recently ran two separate projects meant to teach students what it would be like to have a disability.

[media-credit id=1979 align=”alignright” width=”200″][/media-credit]On Nov. 12 through Nov. 16, 11 physical therapy undergraduate and graduate students sat in wheelchairs for 24 hours as part of Yatauro and Thompson’s independent study. Then, on Nov. 27 through Nov. 30, Dakis-Gallagher’s QU 101 classes spent three to four hours either “blind” or in a wheelchair.

“Mostly what we wanted to do was get people on campus thinking about the challenges you might face if you had to be in a wheelchair,” Thompson said.

According to Yatauro, he and Thompson’s project was motivated by research suggesting that health care professionals sometimes feel uncomfortable around disabled people, especially if they do not know someone with a disability outside of work.

Yatauro hoped spending a day in wheelchairs would help physical therapy students connect to the disabled in their careers.

“By doing this project…students might feel more comfortable addressing or talking to somebody in a wheelchair because of that small experience,” Yatauro said.

Yatauro and Thompson also raised money for Special Athletics, an organization associated with the Quinnipiac University Physical Therapy Club, Yatauro said, although it was not the main goal of the project.

While not aimed at physical therapy majors, Dakis-Gallagher also wanted her students to relate to the disabled.

“The purpose is for them to gain a little insight as to what it would be like to have lost the use of their legs or their sight,” Dakis-Gallagher said.

This is the third year Dakis-Gallagher has given this assignment to her students.

According to Dakis-Gallagher, the project was inspired by Sam and Alex Bode, two young women confined to wheelchairs that she became close with as a teacher at North Branford High School.

Some participants noted that people treated them differently when they were in wheelchairs.

A freshman from Dakis-Gallagher’s class Briana Grillo explained how her classmates reacted as she gave a presentation in her wheelchair.

“I felt like they were focusing more on what I was doing with my hands and the wheels,” she said.

On the other hand, Yatauro had a greater problem with the amount of time it took him to go somewhere and his lack of independence.

“I would say the most challenging part for me was having to rely on others,” Yatauro said. “I can’t imagine having to rely on someone constantly to help me out.”

The students also struggled with handicap accessibility on campus. Some of the residence halls on the Mount Carmel campus do not have elevators, Yatauro said. Dakis-Gallagher’s student Jennifer Weber said it was difficult to see the food on the counters in the cafeteria and to find the automatic doors to enter buildings.

“I didn’t feel that a lot of the assistance devices like automatic doors or the ramps were realistic for the majority of the handicap population,” Yatauro said. “I had difficulties and I can’t imagine [the difficulties for] someone who actually had a disability.”

Despite the challenges, Thompson felt that she has learned a lot through this experience.

“Disability is equal opportunity,” Thompson said. “Anybody at any point in time can become disabled…I think [the project] gave me a real appreciation for people who were independent and lose their independence.”