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Investing in Abilities Week welcomes differences

See a complete list of Investing in Ability Week events >

Investing in Abilities Week this year has grown to 13 days because of an impressive increase in events, organizers say.

The sessions, which begin Oct. 19 and are designed to raise consciousness about disability issues, include an art exhibit and several creative activities, numerous speakers, wheelchair basketball and a chance to meet service, assistance and therapy dogs. The week also includes presentation of the James T. Neubacher Award and Certificates of Appreciation, which will take place 9:30 a.m. Oct. 30 at Rackham Building, Assembly Hall 4th floor.

The event, now in its 19th year, is presented by the Council for Disability Concerns, in collaboration with the U-M Health System and the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living. All activities, which will be held in accessible locations, are free of charge and open to all members of the university community and the public.

"Our intention is to educate and enlighten in a positive, interesting way," says Anna Ercoli Schnitzer, liaison/disabilities librarian, Taubman Medical Library, Health Sciences Libraries. "We try to cover a multitude of topics from autism to deafness to mobility challenges to depression to learning differences to paruresis to epilepsy, etc. Our goal is to destigmatize mental and physical disabilities and to urge people to get to know and accept other individuals who have differences and welcome them into U-M and local communities."

Disability awareness on campus has improved significantly in the last decade, says Schnitzer, who has been a member of the Council for Disability Concerns for 10 years and chair of the Neubacher Award Committee for four years. For example, the Big House is more accessible to people who use wheelchairs and the university has a webmaster who makes sure all official Web sites conform to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

"On campus, we are much more attentive to both physical and online accessibility," Schnitzer says. "We open up the architectural blueprints to members of the Council for Disability Concerns to get their input before a building is actually built. We see many more low-energy doors and ramps everywhere.

"All these factors together provide an atmosphere that is much more welcoming and friendly than it used to be to students who may have some physical or mental differences."

The event will feature several panels and speakers, including:

• Dr. Joseph Himle, Fourth Annual Symposium on Mental Health in the Workplace, 10 a.m. Oct 21, Palmer Commons, Great Lakes Room

• Dr. Rick Solomon, Understanding Autism and Creative Play, 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 Ann Arbor District Library

• Panel on Deafness: Personal Perspectives, 2 p.m. Oct. 27, Kuenzel Room, Michigan Union

• Sarah "Sadie" Wilcox, Art and Ability, noon Oct. 28, Student Activities Building, Maize and Blue Room

• Professor of Art Sadashi Inuzuka, Full Circle: My Journey with Art, 2 p.m. Oct. 29, U-M Hospital, Maternal Child Health Center Auditorium (on Mott 2nd level)

Schnitzer hopes that those who attend Investing in Abilities Week will think about how they can make a difference.

"Leveling the playing field is the expression that comes to mind," she says. "Any one of us can fall, be in a traffic accident or otherwise be involved in a setback that causes a disability — either physical, mental or emotional. Therefore, we should strive to make that aforementioned playing field as level as we can, if only for the possibility that we ourselves may one day be playing on it."

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