The disability awareness exhibit was organized by Katarina Branković in the Edith Garland Dupré Library on Oct. 1 through the 31, to encourage students to learn more about students with disabilities.
The exhibit was to raise awareness of people with disabilities and how we can better understand and support them.
Branković is a PhD candidate at the department of Francophone studies. She organized the exhibition for disability awareness to reach the students and faculty at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She wanted students and faculty to have a better understanding of students with disabilities and that the student body should be aware of the students here with a disability.
“When we talk about disability, people feel like they should not ask questions or it’s something that does not concern them. But the thing is, it does,” Branković said. “You might not have a disability yet, but if you live long enough, at some point we will have a disability. Even if you will never have a disability, you should be aware that there are people with disabilities in our university and they are a part of the student body.”
Branković reached out to the Office of Disability Services and invited students with disabilities to be involved in the exhibit. She put the exhibition together for students with disabilities to tell their own story, about themselves and about their disability. She wanted them to tell others about their stories the way that they wanted to in a space created for them.
The ground floor of the library was chosen as the main spot for the exhibit so that many students and faculty who go to the library would see it and be aware of students with disabilities on campus.
Branković is writing about disability in literature for her topic for her doctorate. As a non-disabled person, she wanted to be more involved in the disabled community to learn and get involved in different projects that would allow her to learn what it actually is.
“It’s not something that I can only learn from an academic point of view where I observe and describe something or critically think about it,” said Branković. “I realized that I have to be a part of the community to understand what a disability is and getting involved with the community, getting engaged in projects to actually realize what it is.”
Branković connected with people that have a disability in the beginning of this project which allowed her to get a better understanding of them and a start on her exhibition. She connected with Affiliated Blind of Louisiana, who has a program to prepare their students to come to a university, and with working with them and learning from them about disability she learned a lot about it and in that process she said she changed.
“During that process, I was changing. My knowledge and understanding of disability right now is completely different than it was when I started this project three months ago,” Branković said.
Branković has said that many disabled students have dropped out of university before due to the fact of not being able to access buildings or hurting themselves due to uneven sidewalks, especially if they are in a wheelchair.
Some buildings on campus have disability accessibility but not all of the buildings do, which limits accessibility for students with disabilities. Not all of the buildings on campus have elevators, which limits what floors these students can go on. The sidewalks being uneven for a disabled student in a wheelchair can put them at risk of hurting themselves.
The limited accessibility a disabled student can have can make them give up on their studies, and because of this Branković wanted to spread disability awareness and make UL Lafayette aware that they are here and are just like everyone else, but that they do need better accessibility.
In working on this project, she received a support letter from the Lafayette Consolidated Government Disability Coordinator, Harlon W. Cowsar II, in which he showed his support to expand the Disability Awareness Exhibition.
“The depth and detail of these student projects have been educational, enlightening, and inspirational and every aspect of these projects have benefited the UL Lafayette and Lafayette Disability Communities,” said Cowsar in the letter. “It offers people without disabilities a chance to learn about these experiences directly from people with disabilities and increases understanding and awareness of what life is like for people who live in the disability culture.”
With the support of the Mayor’s office, Branković plans to grow the exhibit for disability awareness and eventually a website and a workshop that ties into the accessibility for people with disabilities.
She wanted students at UL Lafayette to realize that the disabled community is a big part of the university and not just with disabled students but even the history of UL Lafayette.
She found documents where Ernest Gaines describes his aunt who was disabled. Gaines explained her as a person that couldn’t go places but despite that, she was important to him and who he was.
Branković placed those documents and stories in the exhibition to show how important people with disabilities are and how they have made a big impact on the university from the beginning to now.
The students with disabilities at UL Lafayette make a huge difference to campus and Branković was able to showcase their talents and uniqueness in this exhibit to spread disability awareness.