The third annual R’Ability Awards Ceremony recognizes students with incredible motivation and grit

Jimmy Lai/HIGHLANDER

The third R’Ability Awards Ceremony was held by Student Special Services at HUB 269 to recognize graduating students with disabilities and their allies. The awards were created two years ago for the Student Disability Union (SDU), a student organization that works with students with disabilities as well as without disabilities to raise awareness and advocate on behalf of students with disabilities. The awards were then expanded to recognize all students and have grown since. The first two R’Ability awards ceremonies had six to eight students attending. This year, they had fifteen students RSVP.

The ceremony began with director of Student Special Services Laura Riley welcoming the attendants. “This has been quite a journey for you. And for students with disabilities it’s an even more challenging journey often times,” began Riley.

Eddie Ramirez, a community outreach coordinator from Inland Empire Health Plan, was the guest speaker. Ramirez became paralyzed in an ETB accident on March 28, 2004. He didn’t fully realize the situation  until walking into his room after coming back from the hospital, seeing his baseball cleats and knowing he wouldn’t be able to use them anymore. But while he was in the hospital, he was visited by an individual who was also a paraplegic that told him that life would go on. “I have done a lot of accomplishments that I don’t think I would have done if I was still walking,” Ramirez told the attendants. He ended his speech with a quick fact, revealing, “There (are) about a little over 2 million people living with disabilities in California. 674,000 of them are employed, that’s about 64 percent. So I encourage you guys (to get that number up).”

Awards were then presented by Glyn Wild, a disability specialist in Student Special Services. The first awards were the Outstanding Ally Awards. Adam Daniels from Student Life was awarded for putting together a video discussing ways to make social media more widely accessible. Transportation and Parking Service (TAPS) was then awarded for providing mobility transportation for students who are not able to get around campus. Additionally, the entire TAPS department went through a disability and ally workshop training. Gregg Roberts from Student Affairs Technology Services was lastly awarded for working with Student Special Services on transferring all their paper files to an electronic system.

I have done a lot of accomplishments that I don’t think I would have done if I was still walking.

The excellence in leadership awards were then presented to Sunjay Smith and Kushal Sonowala, two students involved with SDU. “(Smith) was very instrumental in organizing a lot of activities and creating workshops,” said Wild. Sonowala was awarded for being active on campus to raise awareness and for his term as president of SDU last year where he played a significant role in organizing events. Because both Smith and Sonowala weren’t able to attend the ceremony, the Student Disability Union and Student Special Services accepted the awards on their behalves.

“(Smith’s) been amazing, he’s gone over and beyond”, said second-year psychology major Judy Wu, who is SDU’s current publicist and incoming president for next year.

“(Smith) reached out for all of our guests for all of our meetings. He helped a lot with Kushal getting a lot of guests. Kushal was definitely a big help this year,” said fifth-year statistics major Barry Murthy, the acting vice president for SDU.

“(SDU and Student Special Services) kind of go hand in hand. We try to help out with whatever we can, for example: This awards ceremony. SDU and the center is very interconnected,” said second-year political science major and SDU member Winston Fadeff.

The graduating students were awarded with cords. Among the graduating students was Aniella Fields, a third-year religious studies major and theatre minor. As a student with autism spectrum disorder, school has always been extremely difficult for Fields. But the idea that her hard work will pay off or mean something for her or for others has kept her motivated. And she hopes to help other people with disabilities. “I recently was part of a documentary about UCR students with autism spectrum. Through that, I hope that other people can hear my story about how I tried to overcome it, or they can get inspired by that and try to approach the situation a different way like how I did it,” said Fields.

As the ceremony came to a close, Riley announced that Services for Students with Disabilities within Student Special Services will be renamed to the Student Disability Resource Center.

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