Ramapo holds annual Student Panel on Disability online

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College of New Jersey

Ramapo’s annual Student Panel on Disability occurred virtually for the first time on Wednesday, Oct. 14. Students with physical and mental disabilities shared their stories to a full WebEx room, and they answered questions about being a student with a disability on Ramapo’s campus.

There were five panelists as well as a student moderator, senior Greg Engemann. Engemann was able to ask appropriate questions and provide his own perspective because he struggles with his own learning disabilities.

“I have ADHD and dyslexia,” Engemann said in his own introduction. “I was diagnosed in second grade with it, and I have been battling ever since.”

The first question asked was how a disability impacts their lives as college students, and panelist Kyle Tazewell immediately stepped in.

“The transition from high school to college, it’s a much faster pace,” Tazewell, who has ADD and a processing delay, said. “Because of my processing delay, I have to learn how to stick to a routine. In college, it’s your responsibility to have things done on time.”

Paras Patsalos agreed, as she also has ADD. “I have a hard time studying, and with everything being online, I have a hard time focusing,” she said.

A positive outlook on this question came from Adam Foye, a sophomore computer science major who experiences muscle weakness and genetic hearing loss.

“My disability made it so that I had to focus and give a lot of my energy to everyday tasks,” Foye said. “In college, it’s a lot better to find your own schedule, which is something I find helpful. It let me figure things out for myself.”

Engemann then went on to ask the panelists about the challenges they have been faced with due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Especially with COVID, having OCD is really a struggle in being efficient,” social work graduate student Julian Wechsler said. Wechsler especially struggles with germophobia that is stemmed from his obsessive compulsive disorder, so he admits that the pandemic has been a huge struggle for him. 

First-year biology student Rebecca Tallman has Asperger’s, and she was the only freshman on the panel. The lack of no in-person orientation or classes has been a uniquely stressful experience for new students.

“We don’t have a choice, we just have to adapt,” Tallman said. Abbe Benowitz, a disability counselor at the Office of Specialized Services, asked if she is still enjoying her time at Ramapo in the virtual setting.

“I really love Ramapo, and I’m really glad I chose Ramapo,” Tallman responded. She said that she is lucky to have her peer facilitators and her classmates to support her. 

Ramapo was recognized by collegemagazine.com as one of the top 10 schools in the nation for students with physical disabilities, so it was no surprise that when the panelists were asked about Ramapo’s assistance, they only had positive responses with minor suggestions for improvement.

“Ramapo helps the most with helping students with disabilities,” Engemann said. “With that said, there is always room for improvement. The biggest thing I could say is to give more resources to students with disabilities.”

Wechsler agreed, and he recognized how these events only occurring during October could limit many student’s awareness of diverse perspectives on our campus. “This panel is great because it opens up discussion, but it only happens once a year,” he said. “Disability Awareness Month is great because it gives it a spotlight, but we deal with them everyday.”

The next event for Disability Awareness Month will take place this Wednesday, Oct. 21. This event will encourage students to learn about fellow Ramapo students on the Autism Spectrum and how they handle their everyday lives. For more information, click here.