BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
Last Wednesday, the Fort Hays Honor Society hosted a developmental disabilities panel as a part of Disability Awareness Week. The panel consisted of five speakers, each who has been personally affected by a developmental disability or works with individuals who have.
Bri Bradshaw, a graduate student at Fort Hays who is on the autism spectrum began the event by introducing herself. Following her were the two program directors of Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas (DSNWK), Scott Stults and Sara Biggs. The last two panelists were Betsy Crawford, who is an assistant professor in the teacher education program, and Karen McCullough, who is the director of Career Services. Crawford has ADHD and worked as a school psychologist prior to working at Fort Hays, while McCullough’s daughter has a chromosomal condition called Trisomy 4.
Throughout the event, each panelist answered questions about their own personal experiences. First, Stults and Biggs began by explaining just a small part of what they do with their work at DSNWK.
“We have a large variety of service areas,” Biggs said. “You guys have seen our Access Transportation vehicles, we have a college for living site, which is set up similar to a mini-campus, and we have creative living.”
Stults touched more on the college for living sites, which fall under his direction.
“College for living is a day program where individuals with disabilities come to the centers [to take classes]. We offer classes anywhere from health and safety and self-advocacy, to classes about dinosaurs or world history,” he said.
According to Stults, there are also classes that take place in the community and are taught by people who aren’t DSNWK employees. Some of these classes include origami, cooking, and woodworking.
Both Biggs and Stults also talked about how their work with the individuals in DSNWK has impacted them.
“I absolutely fell in love with what I was doing,” Biggs said. “I have three girls and they’ve grown up around most of the individuals. We have them at our house, we celebrate birthdays, their parents or guardians will ask about my girls, so it’s a great community with a lot of support.”
“When I came here to Fort Hays I was a business major,” Stults added. “I started working in a group home and changed my major to sociology. I’ve grown up with the individuals that we serve, they’re like family to me. I’ve just learned so very much from them. It impacted me enough to change my degree, and basically my life path.”
Much of McCullough’s story was also about how much she has learned, especially when it comes to celebrating her daughter’s milestones.
“We started celebrating ‘inchstones.’ I’ve definitely learned to slow down, take nothing for granted, and to celebrate every moment,” McCullough said. “At the end of the day, we really don’t know what life has in store for us.”
She also talked about the negative experiences she has had as the parent of a child with a developmental disability. McCullough’s daughter is nonverbal and uses an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device to communicate, which some people don’t understand. McCullough’s advice is to be curious and accepting.
“Help others in your sphere of influence be [curious and accepting] as well,” she said. “Hays is a great community for acceptance, but we’ve even had experiences with [my daughter] at the park, where children tell her to leave, it isn’t a place for her. Just be curious and ask.”
Similar to McCullough, Bradshaw discussed inclusivity when answering questions.
“For a long time, up until I was 21, I knew that I had the diagnosis, but I didn’t consider myself part of the community,” she said. “I put myself in this box of, ‘I have these issues, but I’m not them.’ It took COVID for me to finally break out of that box and realize that not only was I doing myself a disservice, I was doing the community a disservice. Now I’m trying to figure out how I fit in and how I can make sure that everybody fits in as well.”
One of Crawford’s main points was along the same lines. She discussed the individualized education programs (IEP’s) students have access to in K-12 education, but then not in higher education.
“When you graduate and turn 18, you don’t have those services. The IEP goes away. So when you come to college, vo-tech, or even the world of work, you are responsible to self-advocate, whatever that looks like.”
For Fort Hays students, Health and Wellness Services offers a variety of accessibility services for those affected by learning, physical, and/or psychological disabilities. A full list of the accommodations available can be found here.