‘A Fashion-able Fundraiser’ to benefit DRES, promote services for students with disabilities

This is a place that is changing lives. It is home to services that provide support to students unlike anywhere else on the University campus, but the old façade and the monotone sand color on the walls say otherwise. Hundreds of students and athletes enter through the sliding glass doors of The Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) building each day, ready to advance in their studies or prepare for their next marathon.

DRES works to ensure that students with disabilities are afforded equal curricular and co-curricular opportunities on campus by offering testing, tutoring, and psychological and other services for those with non-visible disabilities such as depression and ADHD. The facility also has its own gym where Paralympians and University wheelchair athletes come to train. The gym, however, is not much larger than one in a typical high school.

Marissa Siebel, Ph.D. candidate in Community Health, certified athletic trainer and one of the entrepreneurs behind IntelliWheels, said she wishes that the students and athletes had a more accommodating facility for training.

Although she did say that “the University of Illinois has a long history of being a pioneer in ability.” In fact, the University was the first post-secondary institution to offer curb cuts, a fixed-route bus system designed to be more accessible for people in wheelchairs and competitive disability sports, she said. It is also home to Delta Sigma Omicron (DSO), the first disability service fraternity.

“We kind of talk about this (DRES) being a magical place, but many miss that because the walls are kind of dingy,” Siebel said.

In order to raise awareness and funds for people with disabilities and DRES, Seibel joined with designer Carlton Bruett of CarltonBruettDesigns to put on a fashion show in conjunction with DSO.

“A Fashion-able Fundraiser” will kick off Thursday, April 14 with a pre-reception that will showcase different clubs and organizations that promote ability on and off campus, including Illinois Service Dog Club, American Sign Language Club, IntelliWheels and 3ELove, a company developed at the University and responsible for selling clothing at the show.

The show itself will boast many speakers such as the director of DRES, Dr. Brad Hedrick, students with their own testimonials, and the show’s emcee, Jean Driscoll, eight-time winner of the Boston Marathon in the women’s wheelchair division and twelve-time medalist at the Paralympics. An award will be presented to Dr. Tim Nugent, who Siebel called the “grandfather of disability” because he developed DRES and brought wheelchair basketball to the University.

The primary focus of the show is the clothes. CarltonBruettDesign has created over 40 different formal-wear outfits that will be paraded down a professionally lit runway by several models in wheelchairs. The designs are meant to fit those with unique body types, Bruett said, meaning they may have broader shoulders, thinner waists, and cuts that are meant to be most appealing when worn sitting down.

Bruett said that this show is not about his company, but rather it is about the students. He wants everyone that comes to the show to have a good time.

Following the show will be a post-reception with a donations table. Siebel said that the money will help DRES as a whole, not just athletics. So far, the show has attracted donations from Carle Hospital, the Atkins Group, the Illinois Department of Human Services and others.

Siebel said that the reason for doing the show stems from her pride in DRES.

Throughout the whole process, Lizzy Carroll, junior in AHS, has been close to Siebel’s side, gauging the demographic for the show and spreading the word about DRES.

Carroll said she is surprised that the University is able to afford a facility such as the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) but has not provided the same to DRES. She, however, said that the ARC does have equipment for people with disabilities, but that the facility is not comfortable for their training. Carroll maintains hope for the future.

“What I would love to happen is for students to know what kind of resource DRES is,” she said. “I don’t even care if they know what the letters (in the acronym) stand for.”

Also helping out with the show is the Pre-Physical Therapy Club. Natalie Wade, senior in AHS and president of the club, has been working hard to promote the show.

She also said that the current condition of DRES was not exactly what it could be.

“The equipment is really old and outdated, and as a PT (Physical Therapy) student, this has a large effect on me.”

Robert Kozarek, junior in LAS, is one of the models for the show. He is also an avid user of the gym at DRES.

In high school, Kozarek was the ideal student and a star football player. He was a Division 1 recruit and was being watched by many prestigious universities around the country.

On July 11, 2006, all of that changed on a rainy day when he hydroplaned off a bridge. Kozarek said that if it weren’t for the physique he developed while playing football, his neck bones would have snapped and he would have died.

He came to the University because of its dedication to helping those with disabilities, even though he says he didn’t want to think of himself as handicapped.

“I’m relearning to live again,” Kozarek said. “Living by myself forced me to realize if I want to live the way I want to live, I have to do it myself.”

Doing the fashion show, he says, will cause him to grow even more as a person. Chuckling, he said that he isn’t really one for fashion. This show for him is more about function than style.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Kozarek said.

In order to join in on the fun, Wade said to arrive at the Illini Union at 6:30 P.M. dressed to impress in a shirt and tie or a dress. Admission is $10 and the proceeds go back to DRES.

Bruett said to be prepared for a night of glamor because as he put it, “It’s gonna be off the chain!”