The University of Iowa

Students learn about people with disabilities at International Day

November 17th, 2010

By Rob Daniel, Iowa City Press-Citizen

CORALVILLE — People with disabilities are able to work in a paying job, run in a marathon and dance, said Scott Gill, president of the Iowa State Association of Independent Living to a group of middle school students.

“Do you think a person who is blind could climb Mount Everest?” he said before switching on a video about Erik Weihenmeyer, a blind man who reached the peak of Mount Everest in 2001.

Gill’s talk along with disability rights advocate Keith Ruff about the rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities was one of 15 sessions that about 300 middle school students could attend Tuesday at the 14th annual University of Iowa International Day at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center.

This year’s event focused on the human right to well-being, which is found in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the fight to help those with physical or mental disabilities around the world, said Greg Hamot, director of the UI Center for Human Rights who was one of the day’s coordinators.

“It’s a way of exposing the kids to aspects of the world that are different to them,” Hamot said. “It’s very different but similar. It’s to broaden their horizons with the rest of the world. It’s to say there’s a lot of work to do.”

Students learned about different international situations, especially those that deal with people with disabilities ranging from communicating through sign language to the problem of clubfoot in many parts of the world through sessions and a drama presentation by the Combined Efforts Theater Group in Iowa City. They also learned about making schools safe for gay, lesbian and transgender youth, street children in Nigeria, and school life in a developing country.

Charlotte Johnson, an eighth-grader at Glenview Middle School in East Moline, Ill., said she learned a lot about the health problems caused by tobacco use.

“I learned that if you can’t breathe, they have to put a hole in your throat,” she said.

Lydia Kaufmann, a sixth-grader at Hoover Elementary in Iowa City, said she liked seeing examples of people with disabilities working despite their handicap.

“I thought it was cool how they had people with disabilities help teach (the sessions),” she said.