Dive into an Accessible Day at the Lake

Students, staff and faculty gathered to celebrate the Accessible Day at the Lake event during the afternoon of Oct. 21. The event took Gators out of the busy swamp and into a state of relaxation with Lake Wauburg’s cool breeze, clear sky and calm water. As guests enjoyed the lake and its inclusive activities, they recognized Disability Awareness Month.

From the sound of Gators’ laughter bouncing off the lake, it’s safe to say the community enjoyed coming together to discuss accessibility on campus.

The Disability Resource Center (DRC) co-hosted the Accessible Day at the Lake. The event spotlights inclusive recreational activities available all year for students with disabilities at Lake Wauburg. The lake’s serene North Shore is located about eight miles south of UF’s main campus at 133 Regatta Drive.

Some universally designed amenities aid visitors with physical disabilities, like a wheelchair that easily glides over sand and a sidewalk that extends from the parking lot to the lake’s dock.

“Inclusive recreation means recreation for all,” said Jenna Gonzalez, the director of the DRC. “Even though universal design can’t always fit everyone’s needs, it’s always important to include as many people as possible.”

Gonzalez said her daily goal is to make people more aware of disabilities and improve campus equity. She said awareness translates to adapting more accommodations, all-embracing designs and activities.

As of this month, 6,263 UF students are registered with the DRC. Those Gators make up about 10.2% of the total student population. Most students registered with the Disability Resource Center have an invisible disability.

Having an invisible disability means their disability is not something others can physically observe. Mental health conditions are an example of invisible disabilities. According to the American Psychological Association, correlational and experimental research has shown that interacting with nature has cognitive benefits. Lake Wauburg offers a relaxing outdoor spot to reduce stress and improve one’s mental health.

Muntaha Islam is a third-year health science student. She is a part of a DRC sponsored student organization called the Disability Ambassadors. As an ambassador and someone who has an invisible disability related to her mental health, she was excited to visit Lake Wauburg for the first time to reflect on Disability Awareness Month.

She said that when people talk about the fight for civil rights throughout history, there isn’t enough recognition for people with disabilities. She said it’s essential to learn more about the obstacles people with disabilities had to overcome to gain the accessible features and awareness we have today. At the event, she reflected on why Disability Awareness Month empowers her while enjoying fun water activities like pedal boating.

“Going to Lake Wauburg was refreshing,” said Islam. “I get easily overstimulated, so it was nice to be in such a spacious environment, walk around the lake’s perimeter and take in the water and trees. I was very thankful for that.”

Islam not only got to focus on her mental health at the event, but she got to be a guide for another student in the DRC with visual impairments. She said it was necessary to describe their surroundings as vividly as possible so her friend could fully experience the lake with her. Islam said it was nice to be surrounded by other students with disabilities because they could relate and share experiences with each other.

“I got to talk about my experiences with other students with disabilities about the DRC, the stigma we face and how sometimes having a disability can affect our relationships because not everyone understands,” said Islam. “It was nice to connect with people who understand.”

The Accessible Day at the Lake event was the second of its kind. However, this year the DRC didn’t host by itself. Instead, the DRC worked closely with the Department of Occupational Therapy, Recreational Sports (also known as RecSports) and Student Government.

RecSports operates Lake Wauburg’s facilities and strives to be comprehensive in design. Laura Hall, the director of RecSports, said her staff is trained to make recreational activities more comfortable for all students. For example, suppose a student needs the volleyball net lowered so they can play while sitting down. In that case, a RecSports employee is ready to assist.

“The Accessible Day at the Lake event shows how accessible many RecSports activities are. We are willing and able to adapt to serve all our students,” Hall said.

Hall reassures that if a student needs arrangements at RecSports that aren’t currently present, there is an online form to request accommodations.

If a student needs academic accommodations, the DRC can provide an accommodation letter which notifies their instructor of any accommodations they may need to make their class or the coursework accessible. Some accommodation examples include getting a note-taker for class, providing alternative ways of accessing classroom materials, or the access to bring a service animal to class. Documentation is not necessarily required to receive accommodations. Gonzalez said the DRC is willing to meet students where they are at.

Robyn Clarke (middle) smiling in anticipation at the Accessible Day at the Lake on Friday, October 21, 2022 at University of Florida in Gainesville, FL / UF Student Life photo by Eli Nino.

During the event, some students with disabilities got to explore new activities.

Robyn Clarke is currently pursuing her master’s degree and serves as a graduate assistant for the DRC. She got to experience being in a kayak for the first time because of Lake Wauburg’s accessible transfer system. The transfer system helps students with physical disabilities get into a kayak or canoe and launch themselves into the water without needing the aid of another individual, although extra help is available to any student who needs it.

“My favorite part of the event was being able to get on the water and relax,” Clarke said. “That was the first time I ever got into a kayak. My experience on the lake was wonderful; It was so calm and peaceful.”

To her, Clarke said that Disability Awareness Month means celebrating disability as a valued part of diversity.

“My greatest takeaway from this event is that with the right accommodations, anything is possible.”

 


Writer: Karter Nancy, knancy.thomas@ufl.edu

Sources: Jenna Gonzalez, jenna04@ufl.edu;

Laura Hall, lhall3@ufl.edu;

Muntaha Islam;

Robyn Clarke