Disability Awareness Week Promotes Diversity

by Evan R. Cain

Azusa Pacific University hosted its inaugural Disability Awareness Week in March to explore the relationship between the APU community and individuals with disabilities. Events included a student leadership chapel and two luncheons that discussed ways higher education can empower individuals with disabilities by advancing inclusion and equity.

“The heart of this week derives from APU’s diversity statement, which says that ‘Azusa Pacific University approaches diversity from a biblical perspective, affirming that diversity is an expression of God’s image, love, and boundless creativity,” said Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of APU’s Learning Enrichment Center, which co-sponsored the event. “People with disabilities are often marginalized by society because they are not seen as part of the dominant learning culture. We want to ensure that students with disabilities have a voice in the broader APU community.”

Mary Mercurio, tutoring coordinator at APU, discussed the need for constructive conversations surrounding the topic of disability. “We must engage in discussions beyond labels. I have two children with disabilities, yet they are so much more than a label. My oldest is 19, and he was diagnosed with autism, but that is not who he is. He is extremely funny; he is a filmmaker who is highly creative; and he has an exceptionally rich imagination,” said Mercurio. “The students that I engage with on campus who have disabilities each possess inspiring stories, and unique dreams, talents, and personalities. Whether the disability is physical or mental, whether it is apparent or not, we are all born of God and all contribute to the richness of our community.”

Mario Ferrante, an executive business and music consultant, author, and visual artist, spoke as a panelist at the March 4 luncheon. Ferrante, who contracted polio as an infant, provided valuable insights into the relationship between education and individuals with physical disabilities.

“Communication is key to addressing disabilities in a serious manner,” said Ferrante. "A diversity movement is gaining momentum throughout the country, and it needs to include the disabled. We should propagate a culture that is inviting, welcoming, and educated about disabilities.”

Ferrante offered an avenue of integration for disabled students in the community. “Higher education should celebrate the creative efforts of disabled individuals, as creativity and productivity unite groups because they are universally valued. When we honor their work, we build a bridge toward better understanding and appreciating their talents and unique contributions.”

APU displayed Ferrante's paintings during Disability Awareness Week in the William V. Marshburn Memorial Library. His art employs a technique he created called "Crushed Impressionism," in which he paints on a canvas using only the wheels of his wheelchair. “When I received such positive feedback about my art, I felt welcomed by the APU community. I hope that is the type of environment we can cultivate for all disabled students.”

Evan R. Cain '18 is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a biblical studies and humanities major in the Honors College.