Panelists shed light on living with disabilities


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Photo by Aleksi Tzatzev |

A panel of students with disabilities discuss overcoming adversities last night in the Cook?Campus Center Multipurpose Room.


Student panelists came together last night at the Cook Campus Center as part of Project Civility to disprove the myth that disabilities limit people and their accomplishments.

Jennifer Matos, the moderator of the event who is diagnosed with lupus, invited University students Jamie Nacht, Mackenzie Kimmel and Nick McKittrick to speak about their experiences in the classroom and beyond.

“Civility is not dead,” said Senior Dean of Students Mark Schuster in his opening. “In the second year [of the program], we want to re-invent the term ‘civility.’”

While the event did not attract as many people as previous segments of Project Civility, it aimed to provide the audience with first-hand accounts of, as Schuster called it, “intersectionality of multiple identities.”

Matos, a Jersey City native, shared the challenges of growing up diagnosed with lupus at age 16 as well as coming out as gay to her parents.

“My sexuality was this thing that my mother would never accept,” said Matos, who attended Smith College and University of Massachusetts-Amherst and eventually received her doctorate in education.

She explained how her lesbian and Puerto Rican identity intersected with her disability.

“Some folks ask me if I am angry at God. If anything, lupus has brought me closer to my family,” she said.

Matos believes individuals with disabilities are capable of doing so much more than what society expects of them.

McKittrick, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, was diagnosed with a condition that causes him to go through multiple moods rapidly during the day.

He shared his early life experiences of his family telling him he could do whatever he wanted.

“I was told I could do whatever I want, but I was held back by the expectations of others,” McKittrick said. “I look at things the right way now.”

McKittrick said he has been in and out of the University several times but believes he finally figured out his own way of looking at the situation.

“Professors don’t like surprises,” he said in regard to telling his instructors about his condition. “I explained my situation, and they have always been supportive and have even been a great source of strength.”

He said people must find what they want to do rather than what others tell them to.

“It is not about what I can do or what I am supposed to do,” McKittrick said.

Kimmel, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, was involved in a car accident in January and spent months in rehabilitation preparing for her return as a senior at the University.

“I am beyond lucky to have survived at all,” she said. “[Doctors] told me an inch to the right, and I would have been paralyzed forever.”

Kimmel spoke of her friends and family helping her in the months following the incident during her recovery.

“I had to be under supervision 24 hours a day,” Kimmel said. “There was always someone there getting me to the doctor.”

But she said her experience made her realize how lucky she was.

“Through this experience, I did get this opportunity … to experience gratitude, compassion with myself,” Kimmel said.

Nacht, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, experiences difficulty walking due to an amino deficiency.

She said she was not born with this condition, but developed it early in her teens.

Nacht told the story of her waking up in the middle of the night with sharp pain in her legs. At first, doctors said she was just seeking attention. But after several tests, they found infections and her condition was diagnosed.

“I am learning to walk again, slowly,” said Nacht, who sat in a wheelchair. “Once I was told I couldn’t walk, that made me fight.”

She said professors on campus sometimes offered her more help than she needed, including extra time on exams.

“I plan on walking, and I know it will happen one day,” said Nacht, who expects to graduate this May with a degree in psychology.

Schuster commended the student panel on how articulately they told their stories.

“We cannot only teach tolerance, we need to teach beyond tolerance,” he said. “We go through this very complicated, stressful life.”

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