Jessica Garcia was so nervous Wednesday morning that she couldn’t decide what shoes to wear.
“I brought three different [pairs] and we car pooled together so I was like, ‘Guys what shoes do I wear?’” said Garcia, who’s studying international trade at PCC.
Garcia and several of her peers from the Students Unlimited at PCC were on their way to attend a one-day mentoring event geared towards students with disabilities.
Disability Mentoring Day was designed for college students with physical and learning disabilities. The event took place all day as students convened at Los Angeles City Hall to be paired up with their mentors who they would shadow throughout the day.
For Garcia and her peers, however, Disability Mentoring Day was more than just an opportunity to learn.
“The fact that they’re giving us the opportunity to live normal lives and actually become who we want to be, that’s pretty awesome,” said Garcia.
Garcia’s excitement was palpable, even the day after the event. Her statements were often punctuated with “it was awesome” and she wasn’t the only one that felt this way.
“I’ve done this three times,” said Javier Gonzalez, who is visually impaired. “I was already sure of what I wanted to do, but seeing it this time it gives more hope to anyone with or without a disability.”
Gonzales was placed in the same mentoring group as Garcia and Joseph Duncan, another member of Students Unlimited. The three students followed around several attorneys from the District Attorneys Office.
For Garcia, the opportunity to shadow mentors only affirmed that she was on the right track to becoming an attorney.
“I got to meet attorneys with disabilities,” said Garcia. “That was awesome.”
Unlike Garcia, who has a learning disability, Duncan and Gonzalez have a physical disability: visual impairment. This hasn’t stopped any of them from reaching for their goals.
“You face challenges throughout life, whether it’s a disability or just family,” said Gonzalez. “You can still be what you want to be as long as you make the effort to it.”
The mentees that attended also praised the attentiveness of their mentors.
“I got to exchange not just business cards, but personal information with them too,” said Garcia.
All five mentees that attended were invited to stay in touch and contact their mentors if they needed any advice.
In a world where networking is critical, the students who attended recognized the impact that their mentors could have on their lives. The opportunity to connect and talk with like-minded, career driven professionals has inspired them to achieve their dreams of obtaining a higher education and a career.
“In reality we’re people just like anyone else,” said Garcia. “We just do things differently that’s all.”
Mark Sakata, the faculty advisor in charge of the Students Unlimited Club, has lauded the potential of Disability Mentoring Day for opening doors to students with disabilities.
“There’s this sense of acceptance out there,” said Sakata. “It’s encouraging and inspiring.”
As a mentor for the second time in a row, Sakata has seen the positive impacts that connecting students and mentors can have. He’s also aware of how much mentors can learn from their mentees.
“I’m hoping to get some ideas from her,” said Sakata about his mentee, Kelly Yang, who is currently a student at USC.
Yang is not one to let obstacles in life stay in her way. Confined to an electric wheelchair, she has used her awareness of disabilities as a gateway to promote a more universal design at her alma mater, Biola University.
“I did participate a lot in my former university with disability awareness,” said Yang.
Yang’s advocacy stems from her ability to empathize with those whose disabilities might hinder them in day-to-day life.
“I asked the higher ups at my former university, at Biola, to install automatic buttons,” said Yang. “I explained to them that it not only helps people with disabilities, but it helps people who are temporarily injured.”
Yang’s achievements at her former college has inspired Sakata to bring awareness to universal design at PCC so that all students with and without disabilities can easily access all areas on campus.
Yang is also aware that there needs to be a change in how people perceive those with disabilities.
“I feel like USC can definitely improve in their disability department,” said Yang who has heard rude comments on campus about her disability.
Yang is content to observe for now, but next semester she plans to get involved and bring about positive change to students with disabilities on her campus.
“It’s the small wheels of justice it just takes a really long time,” said Yang.Di
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