The Athens County Board of Developmental Disabilities, or ACBDD, will host the third annual March on Court Street for Disability Awareness on Friday in honor of March being Developmental Disability Awareness Month.
Arian Smedley, assistant superintendent of ACBDD, said that the superintendent of ACBDD, Kevin Davis, was inspired to start an annual march in Athens for developmental disability awareness month after participating in the women’s march. Developmental disabilities are long-term problems that can affect either physical or mental abilities.
The purpose of the event is to have people with and without disabilities come together and bring awareness, Smedley said. She believes the Athens march is the first one in the region and quite possibly the state.
If you go:
What: Disability Awareness March on Court Street
When: Friday, 9:45 a.m.
Where: Meet at fourth floor entrance of Baker University Center
The first March on Court Street brought out just under 100 people, and the second brought out a couple of hundred. Smedley said the board’s goal is to meet or exceed last year’s turn out.
Smedley said the plan is to converge on the fourth floor entrance of Baker University Center, where participants will shout where they are from and hold up signs in support of the march’s goal. The march ends at the Athens County Municipal Court, 8 E. Washington St., where remarks will be made by State Representative Jay Edwards and possibly a county commissioner.
“It’s not often we have public events like this,” Smedley said. “It’s a fun time. People are proud to come out and celebrate the month. The energy in the room is just really electric when we take over the entrance way of the fourth floor of Baker.”
People from as far as Zanesville, Ohio, show up to the event, along with several local school districts, public officials and local adults.
The theme of this year’s Developmental Disability Awareness Month is “Let's Connect,” and marching down Court Street with not only friends and family, but also strangers is a way to connect and bring awareness to an important cause, according to the march’s Facebook page.
“Anyone is welcome to come,” Smedley said. “The event is great because it increases awareness and inclusion in the county.”
Carolyn Lewis, a member of ACBDD, said that oftentimes people who do not have to deal with disabilities personally do not think about how difficult it can be. To Lewis, events such as March on Court Street help educate others on what people who have disabilities and their families deal with everyday.
“It shows the strength of the community coming together to help highlight the issues of people with developmental disabilities,” Lewis said. “It celebrates the diversity of people who have developmental disabilities because one shoe does not fit all.”
Lewis mentioned a phone application called Athens City Source that Athens offers. The application allows people to take pictures of areas in the city they believe are particularly dangerous for those with disabilities and send them to City Hall.
Lewis and various Athens residents participate in what is called a “walk and roll” every few months in which people, both walking and in wheelchairs, come together to check various places in Athens and make sure there are no areas that are safety hazards to those with developmental disabilities.
“The community needs to understand what the disabilities are and what services there are,” Lewis said. “Athens has been blessed with a lot of services for families with developmental disabilities.”
Marissa Owens, a first year master’s student studying college student personnel, said it is important to bring awareness to the fact that not everyone who has a disability will have a specific look. Owens herself has a disorder that is imperceptible to the eye. It is a genetic disorder called Ehlers Danlos that affects her connective tissue.
“For social occasions like going out I may need to sit down, and I can’t go somewhere that is standing room only,” Owens said. “It impacts my social life so that my friends have to make accommodations for things we do.”
Owens is a member of the Accessibility Liaison Council, which partners with Athens City Council to make Ohio University and Athens accessible. She believes Athens in particular is a physically inaccessible campus because of the hills, and because it is a rural area, it is not close to a lot of outside resources.
“I really appreciate actually having an event that is open to the community and to the school that helps recognize that the people within our community that have disabilities can be your friends, neighbors and classmates,” Owens said. “So try to fight for accessibility and make our campus and community more accessible and inclusive for all.”