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Davis, California

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Disabled, or differently abled?


IDD community, Best Buddies, Special Olympics, students with disabilities

Best Buddies is a student organization on campus that works to link the community of intellectual and developmental disabilities with UC Davis students. This organization is also present in high schools and several countries. It involves a wide spectrum of people, including individuals with epilepsy, autism and cerebral palsy.  

“We cover a very wide range of disabilities, because a lot of these buddies don’t have friends outside of their families, so they’re very secluded,” said Paola Vidal, a second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major. “So our point is to create [an] inclusive environment, but our ultimate goal is to not have a club like this. We want the world to naturally provide inclusion for these buddies because they are very sweet […] a lot have been bullied but their spirits are very, very high.”

Best Buddies pairs a college student with someone from the IDD community, called a buddy, and they are encouraged to keep in communication and hang out a few times a month. Best Buddies also hosts a range of events including dances, like the mini prom the club recently co-hosted with another club, along with smaller social events such as their own pool day.

Vidal is in charge of the Global Ambassadors division of Best Buddies, where she focuses on strengthening the soft skills of the buddies. She does this by helping them work through the writing process, focusing on details such as paragraph structure, along with just discussing ideas and encouraging buddies to present if they are comfortable in doing so.

“It basically just helps strengthen the communication style of these buddies, [through] writing, speeches, et cetera,” Vidal said. “Because a lot of them don’t know how to […] carry out a conversation. My style of [approaching] that program is presenting a prompt. So for one of the prompts in the beginning of the year, I [asked], ‘if you could write a letter to your future self, what would you have to say?’”

Vidal joined Best Buddies during her freshman year. She didn’t in the dorms, which made it more difficult for her to find friends.

“I remember looking around to find a club based on friendship, so when I found this club that serves the IDD — and I wanted to serve to a minority group, and I know that IDD is underserved unfortunately — so I got in touch with the president and got involved,” Vidal said. “I know what it’s like to feel alone, and I think one of the most powerful things is how friendship can minimize the discrepancy between two people.”

Vidal got paired with her buddy Wesley, who is nonverbal and low-functioning. The distinction between low-functioning and high-functioning, as Vidal explained, is mainly based on how independently someone can function without a caretaker. Some buddies that are high-functioning have jobs, and work in various places such as Safeway and at the ARC. Some have also pursued higher education.

Vidal mainly communicates with her buddy through fist-bumps and handshakes. They bond over food, use “yes or no” questions, and often go to the farmers market together.

“I got paired up with Wesley because he really likes walking around,” Vidal said. “I think his favorite thing is just walking around the Arboretum. We [also] got matched up because I’ve had previous experience with IDD. Because he is nonverbal, you have to be very affirmative. He has a tendency to walk around […] but when he sees that I’m getting left behind, he’ll wait.”

Special Olympics is another club on campus that works to serve people with disabilities, by using sports as a vehicle for community building.

Suraj Pathak, a fourth-year NPB major, founded a branch of Special Olympics at UC Davis in order to help break some of the stigma around people with disabilities. Pathak believes that athletes with disabilities have enriched his life and the lives of the members more so than they can ever provide to the athletes. Special Olympics aims to host one event per quarter that focuses on the sport of the season. This season, on May 19, they are putting on a huge clinic to bring out the football team and coaches, and invited different areas of Special Olympics in California to come join them on the UC Davis football field.

“[Our student club members] that came up to me right after our basketball game event were just fascinated as to how amazing these athletes are, how they are as people, and how funny [and] outgoing they are,” Pathak said. “Those experiences really hit home for me, because that is exactly what I wanted to see out of the club. The people that came up to me and expressed their joy in seeing the athletes, and how [the athletes and members] responded to one another is the only thing that I could ever take away from this — and that’s all that really mattered to me.”



Written by: Sahiti Vemula — features@theaggie.org


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