Expo raises awareness, provides information for disabilities

The fifth annual “Reaching Out for Answers: Disability Resource Expo” was held Saturday in Urbana’s Lincoln Square Village. The expo aims to provide services for those who have physical, developmental, emotional or mental disabilities. It was designed to raise awareness and to remove the stigma surrounding the disabled. The areas the event covered ran the gamut from vendors to legal services in the Champaign-Urbana area for those with disabilities.

Developmental Disabilities Board member Joyce Dill had the idea to create the expo.

“It was her idea to create a sort of one-stop shop for people who wanted to learn about the services that were available in the community,” said Janice McAteer, director of development within the Developmental Services Center and member of the steering committee for the expo.

A focal point for the expo was the Disability Pride room. This room contained 20 entrepreneurs with disabilities selling their products. The Disability Pride room was created three years ago as a way to involve more people with disabilities in the expo.

Entertainment for the fair included Ministry in Motion, a signing choir from Danville’s Second Church of Christ. The group used sign language to sign lyrics set to music. There were also presentations on AmTrykes, or bikes for those with lower-body paralysis, and company Barking Angel service dogs, as well as a performance by Michael Power’s one-man band.

The expo included face painting, balloon animals, games and moon bounce.

One of the highlights of the expo was the search for the Becky and Aidan dolls. These Mattell-made dolls both have disabilities. Expo attendees searched for the hidden dolls around the venue for the chance to win a pair of dolls for themselves.

“It’s so important for disabled children to have dolls that look like themselves,” McAteer said.

She said that because of the uneven representation of able-bodied and disabled persons in the media, disabled children can often feel excluded; having these dolls can help boost their self-esteem.

University students were also present at the expo.

This year, a special education class at the University developed a sensory room for the expo.

The room is a place where attendees can see what it is like to live with disabilities, such as by sitting in a wheelchair or wearing glasses that emulate impaired vision.

Alex Wright, senior in ACES, was present as a volunteer for the service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega.

“I think it’s important for University students to be a part of community events like these,” Wright said. “It shows we care about things that happen outside the school.”

Volunteers also included Champaign-Urbana community members. Bailie Roy represented Urbana High School as a part of the school’s social committee.

“I think this is event is so important because we have to show that it’s OK for people with disabilities to come together and get the help and services that they need,” Roy said.

With 74 vendors, the expo has almost outgrown Lincoln Square Village.

“There may be a need to switch spaces as the expo, especially the Disability Pride area, (as it) grows and changes,” McAteer said. “I look forward to what changes the expo has next year.”