Celebrate Ability Week sees high turnout

Organizers hope the event will continue on an annual basis.
Adaptive Computing Technology Center Manager Abbie O'Sullivan shows sophomore Joe Simmons how to use the Matias Half Keyboard at the Celebrate Ability Fair on Wednesday on Lowry Mall. Celebrate Ability Week also included an open house for Tiger Wheelchair Basketball and a sports fair.

Organizers and attendees alike said they've been impressed with the results of Celebrate Ability Week, increasing the chances of it becoming an annual event at MU.

The week-long slew of events, which began Monday with a Tiger Wheelchair Basketball open house, was initiated to morph the public’s view disabilities.

On Tuesday, a number of participants gathered at the Student Recreation Complex for a Celebrate Accessible Sports fair. Attendees were able to try several sports typically pursued by people with disabilities, ranging from Power Soccer to track.

Event Coordinator Troy Balthazor said the event provided a relaxed environment for the public to learn and attempt accessible sports.

“A big part of why we’re doing this is to show that when disability occurs, there’s opportunity for all sorts of recreational activities,” he said. “We want to get the word out about these different kinds of sports.”

The following day, Mark Zupan, star of the documentary “Murderball,” visited campus. Early in the day, he signed copies of his autobiography, “GIMP,” at University Bookstore followed by a presentation in Jesse Auditorium in the evening.

Zupan has been quadriplegic since a car accident his freshmen year at Florida Atlantic University.

“Everyone makes mistakes, but I don’t regret any of the mistakes I’ve made because they are what makes you who you are,” he said. “You learn from those mistakes. I don’t wish I could change anything or choose a different path, because I’m lucky.”

Able to remain candid in his presentation, Zupan elicited a number of laughs from his audience.

“My disability, it’s pretty obvious,” he said. “My mom didn’t shoot me out with a chair attached. If she did, then she’s taking some great prenatal vitamins.”

When questioned by an audience member about his ability to remain lighthearted about his situation, Zupan laughed.

“That’s what makes it even more fun,” Zupan said. “You’re going to have to break the ice sometime. I mean, joking around about it, it piques people’s curiosities. If you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the fun?”

Being quadriplegic has taken him places spanning the Academy Awards, to the Paralympics, to “Jackass,” so Zupan said he wouldn’t erase the past even if given the chance.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, hands down,” he said. “I’ve done interviews with people and they try to say ‘No, you’re full of it,’ but I’m not.”

Amanda Gastler, senior chairwoman of Missouri Students Association department of student activities speaker’s committee, was responsible for Zupan coming to MU. She said he was a natural fit for Celebrate Ability Week’s theme.

“He’s a really awesome guy, just in being around him for the past few hours,” she said. “He’s more of like a friend. It was like a conversation he was having with the audience instead of just lecturing.”

Services for Independent Living Director Aimee Wehmeier said she enjoyed Zupan’s presentation.

“His speech was amazing,” she said. “He breaks the barriers of a stereotypical person with a disability.”

Feedback such as this is why Balthazor considers Celebrate Ability Week a success.

“I’m very impressed with the amount of people who came, especially students,” he said. “They’ve been the most amazing turnout. Faculty hasn’t really been here, but students have really stepped up and made this week.”

For this reason, he sees Celebrate Ability Week continuing in the future.

“It’s starting to look that way,” Balthazor said. “I don’t want to speak for the entire group, but from the feedback I receive from MSA and the other players involved, I think this is going to happen again, and I think it’s going to be even bigger next year.”

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