Badgers for Special Olympics discussed the inclusion of students with disabilities at a meeting Tuesday.
The student organization aims to further the mission of the Special Olympics by creating an environment that develops relationships between people — with and without disabilities — to further one of their guiding values: Inclusion.
Sydney Schaeffer, a board member of Badgers for Special Olympics, moderated the event and facilitated questions for the six panelists. These panelists included sophomore Kimberly Stathas, senior Maddie Gogolewski, junior Geroge Baldassano, senior Sammi Lococo, Edgewood College junior Nate Barge and local student Tyler Wigington.
Topics of discussion ranged from what inclusion means to ways UW-Madison can improve inclusivity on campus.
“Inclusion to me is respecting, welcoming and celebrating everyone’s uniqueness,” said Lococo. “This also means having a loving environment where everyone can be one-hundred percent their authentic selves.”
Barge discussed his part in Edgewood’s Cutting Edge program, where he works with individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Cutting Edge was piloted in 2007 and served as the first program at a four-year college in Wisconsin to offer a fully inclusive college experience for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to its website.
“On the baseball team as a team manager, I find ways to build relationships between the Cutting Edge program and the athletics department,” said Barge. “There is a lot of inclusivity with Cutting Edge on campus. Since it is a small campus it is easy to get to know everyone.”
Through Badgers for Special Olympics, many students can find a safe place on campus to build friendships.
“Everything Badgers for Special Olympics does makes sure to include everyone around us,” said Stathas on why he enjoys being a member of the organization. “This goes into what living unified means, lifting up friends and strangers at any cost. Also spreading kindness and being there for people when they are down. We are all open to the opportunity of new friendships and opportunities.”
Panelists also talked about what the UW-Madison community can do to be more inclusive of individuals with disabilities. While the university takes action to promote inclusivity and provide safe spaces on campus, the panelists expressed a continued need for improvement.
“I would like to see more students volunteering,” said Baldassano. “This can be accomplished by the school putting some volunteering requirements or incentives to get students to try volunteering. I think this would really get some students out of their shells and find them a cause they are in love with and take off with.”
Stathas mentioned additional ways in which the university holds up barriers toward students with disabilities, even while providing services like the McBurney Disability Resource Center, which assists students with issues ranging from note-taking to housing accomodations.
“I have noticed that pre-recorded lectures do not have closed captioning,” said Stathas. “This is one example of a lot of barriers for online education. McBurney can be a barrier too and some things can be difficult to get the support you need. UW-Madison has inclusive strategies but there is always room for improvement.”
Local athlete Tyler Wigington spoke about his involvement with Badgers for Special Olympics.
“My dad got me involved. He started to volunteer with some of the Badgers for Special Olympics students for about a year,” said Wigington. “It is very unique to get out and spend time getting to know all the students. It is a great way to get out there with sports and also through their book club.”
Badgers for Special Olympics encouraged attendees to share what inclusion means to them, as well as ways in which they will show inclusion, on a jamboard. Additionally, the organization encouraged signing a Special Olympics “Inclusion Pledge.”
Students looking to get involved can click "contact" in the top right of the student organization page and send a brief email saying they are looking to join. The organization also provides a form for prospective members to fill out.