WSU event celebrates disability culture

Keynote speaker Lydia Dawley shares story

An event Tuesday night at Winona State University proves that people with disabilities can not only live a fulfilled life, but can also achieve success they never thought was possible.

The “Disability Culture Celebration” put on by students in a Disability: Communication and Culture class featured artwork made by dozens of people with disabilities in the Winona community and a keynote speaker recognized nationally as an advocate for people with disabilities.

Lydia Dawley is a sophomore studying communications at UW-Whitewater. Her cerebral palsy makes it so she’s unable to speak normally, but that doesn’t stop her from getting her point across using a communication device.

Complications at birth may have taken away many of her motor skills, but nothing can take away her sense of humor.

“I am 20 years and no I am not driving yet, you can thank my parents for that,” Dawley said.

Or her zeal for life and passion for following her dreams.

“She always talks about how she’s feisty and has strong willpower to get things done,” WSU student and Dawley’s friend, Ben Coady, said. “She strives to be first speech pathologist with communication device.”

“I was put on earth to make a difference so sitting around feeling sorry for myself will not make for a very fun life,” Dawley said.

So instead of sitting around, Dawley’s mother drove her three hours to speak at the art show on the WSU campus.

“We’re celebrating some really great art, by amazing artists,” WSU student, Kathryn Oakland, said. “They are disabled but it doesn’t really make a difference. Art is art.”

And one lesson the students have learned is just like art is art, people are people, disabled or not.

“Hopefully we can shine light on people with disabilities and make it so eventually maybe everyone with a disability is viewed as equal to people without disabilities,” WSU student, Riley Schmitz, said.

“We need to view people with disabilities as our friend,” Coady said.

So instead of looking down on those with disabilities, or even up to them for their accomplishments, Dawley says she’s really on the same level as everyone else.

“People with disabilities do not want sympathy,” Dawley said. “We want to find friendships and to be given a chance to live a life like everyone else.”

She’ll keep sharing her story any way she can.

“My goal is to teach people to see what’s on the inside of a person and not to focus on the physical things,” Dawley said. “I hope to encourage others to find their voices and let the world hear their stories and most importantly I hope I can teach compassion for others.”