The Disabilities Panel: A Spectrum of Ability


Courtesy of Victoria Berger/The Villanovan

Victoria Berger

On Sept. 25, Special Olympics Committee and LEVEL cosponsored “The Disabilities Panel: A Spectrum of Ability.” It featured five panelists with differing abilities. The speakers ranged from students to professors to even a Special Olympics athlete with various invisible, mental, and physical disabilities. 

Emma Martin first spoke about her hidden illness: cystic fibrosis. Martin, a senior in the School of Business, described the difference between a disability and a hidden illness. She explained a little bit about her treatments, which consist of a series of nebulizers and lung treatments for 30 minutes a day. 

Andrew Wykowski, a sophomore accounting major, talked next about his accident. He broke his neck, which left him fully paralyzed for two weeks and then unable to walk for another 3.5 months. When asked, “How did your accident change your outlook on life?” Wykowski simply stated, “It taught me about resilience.” Unlike Martin, Wykowski could physically show the audience some clues about his disability; he walks with a limp and still cannot open his left hand. None of these setbacks have stopped him though. In fact, he still loves to ski and play ultimate frisbee.

The next panelist, Allie Lyons, moved the conversation from physical disabilities to mental illnesses. She specifically experiences depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. When the panelists opened the door for questions, sophomore Kyle Bangug asked, “In regards to invisible illnesses, what do you suggest we, as loving friends and family members, can do to help?” Lyons quickly explained that the best thing to do is to be an active listener. She stated, “Just let [people with a mental illness] feel their feelings. Let them cry or be upset and don’t ask them questions if they aren’t in the mood to talk. Just be there for them.”

Martin chimed in with her advice on the topic as well. “A year ago today, I was admitted into the hospital for three weeks. I had weekly TV dates scheduled with my mom to watch our favorite show, which really helped. Just give your friend or family member something to look forward to.”

The next panelist was Lisa Barbour, a Special Olympics six sport athlete. She started off as a quiet soccer player, and eventually overcame her fear of water and joined the Special Olympics swim team. Now, she is the Southeastern Regional Representative for Special Olympics of Pennsylvania, speaking on behalf of nine counties. She met some of her best friends through Special Olympics, and she thanked them and Villanova for helping her step out of her comfort zone and try new sports.

Finally, Dr. Helen Lafferty spoke about her experiences teaching a blind student. Dr. Lafferty has been at Villanova for over two decades and in that time, has been an Academic Counselor in the Counseling Center, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Assistant Professor of Education, Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs, University Vice President, and a College Professor. She explained that throughout her time at Villanova, she notice the campus evolve into a more inclusive and accepting unit. 

The rest of the panel concurred. Through clubs on campus such as Special Olympics and LEVEL, the gap between students with different disabilities on campus and in the Philadelphia area is almost completely dissolved.