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Disability awareness month kicks off

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A musician with Down Syndrome and Irish head football coach Charlie Weis might not seem to have much in common, but in the coming weeks the two will highlight Notre Dame’s Disability Awareness Month.

Disability Awareness Month is an extended version of the Disability Awareness Weeks that have been held on campus since 1997. Marissa Runkle of the Logan Center has coordinated most of the efforts along with Kathleen Roblez, co-president of Best Buddies and the College Buddy Director.

The first scheduled event is a performance by Sujeet Desai, a 23-year-old man who was born with Down Syndrome. He will play the piano, clarinet and violin in a concert held at 7 p.m. tonight in Washington Hall.

A graduate of the Berkshire Music Academy, Desai has also earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and won gold and silver medals swimming in the Special Olympics World Games.

“He has really pushed himself to work so hard. His older brother, who does not have special needs, has served as a real inspiration to him,” Runkle said. “Tomorrow [at the concert] there will be a lot of children who have Down Syndrome, and he is one of their idols.”

The concert by Desai is touted by the organizers as one of the highlights of Disabilities Awareness Month.

“Sujeet’s performance will be really cool because instead of just having a speaker about disabilities, we will actually have someone with disabilities doing a performance themselves,” Roblez said.

The upcoming weeks will feature other events centered on the issue of disability awareness. On March 19, the Logan Center will host a Best Buddies Friendship Games carnival from 12 p.m. to 2.

“We will have about 150 people here for a small carnival. Half will be people with disabilities such as Down Syndrome, mental retardation, or autism, while the other half will be Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students who are in Best Buddies,” Runkle said. “The event is open to all students though as a service opportunity.”

On March 21, Weis, whose daughter has been affected by developmental disorders, will speak about the value of people with disabilities. The lecture will be held at 9 p.m. in 102 DeBartolo Hall.

There will be a discussion for Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students with disabilities ranging from physical to learning in Legends on March 29 at 8 p.m.

On March 30, a Theology on Tap discussion focusing on legal mercy killings of people with disabilities will be held at 10 p.m. at Legends. David Solomon, philosophy professor and director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, will lead the discussion.

“The reason we are doing Disabilities Awareness Month is to educate students about disabilities issues and to emphasize the fact that people with disabilities have a lot to contribute to society and are active members in our society,” Runkle said.

Disabilities Awareness Month is sponsored by the Logan Center and the Best Buddies Club of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, as well as the Center for Social Concerns, the Special Friends Club, SuperSibs, the Office for Students with Disabilities, the Senior Class Council and the Edna K. Miller Foundation.

“We definitely want everyone to come to all of the events,” Roblez said. “The carnival is going to be fun, and it would be a great time for students who have not had contact with people with disabilities to come here and play games with them in a laid back atmosphere. It’s a great opportunity for people who are interested to come and see what it’s like to interact with people who have disabilities.”