Summit Bolsters Campus Efforts around Disability Awareness

By Brian Smith

At No Barriers, we design our annual Summit to get people to harness their adversity, break through barriers and better not only their own life, but the lives in the community around them.

After attending, Matt did both.

As assistant director of James Madison University’s Office of Disability Services, Matt started to think about ways to recreate the sense of community and theme of inclusion he found so empowering at the 2011 Summit. He not only saw the internal application, but also how it could apply back at to his work in the campus community.

“It was that sense of being surrounded by people who get it,” he said of the Summit. “… To me, it’s more about being creative and adapting to environments and creating inclusive environments from the get go and thinking on the fly.”

Matt, who said he has internal barriers, he has always been a person who can see connections where others see disparate efforts. He applies that skill in helping organize and execute JMU’s Disability Awareness Week.

After returning from the Summit in Winter Park, Colo., he was inspired to reach out to two JMU professors in hopes of bolstering existing campus efforts around disability awareness.

The professors – Josh and Tom, who both have cerebral palsy – started Adapted Sports Day, which is now in its second year and has had three events. It is part Tom’s Overcoming Barriers, which provides community programming for local youth with disabilities.

Adapted Sports Day grew from 65 volunteers and participants to more than 100 at the most recent, late-October event, which featured an adaptive soccer clinic and a challenger course.

That course was part of JMU’s Campus Recreation Department’s participation in the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge. Matt helped connect the two efforts, which saw participants hoist themselves, or with the help of a team, onto a zip line course.

Josh, JMU assistant professor of Sport and Recreation Management, said the goal of the event is to expose middle and high school students with disabilities to campus and college life.

JMU_ASD_1He said it was also a good experience for parents who may have had to be very involved in helping their child grow and adapt. Josh said volunteers worked hard to tell parents it’s “healthy” to feel the way they did as they watched their child be suspended 25 feet above the ground.

“We wanted to break down those barriers,” he said. “Whether it may be a fear that the kid may have, that he or she may not be sure about college or what it’s like. Or maybe it’s that fear from the parent.”

Josh said some of the students with disabilities were able to get higher in the ropes course using adaptive technology than students without disabilities, which “really shattered stereotypes.” The event also challenged Josh in ways he said he hadn’t anticipated.

“It puts me in another area too because I’ve never lived my life around other people with disabilities,” he said. “… It really kind of challenged the way I approached things, as well. Each time we do these, I’m in a situation I’m trying to gain a comfort zone in. … I’m not immune to have this as something I’m trying to deal with either.”

The event has gained popularity on campus and Josh, Tom and Matt hope to make next year’s event larger and more inclusive. In the meantime, Matt said he is looking forward to attending this year’s Summit in Park City, Utah.

As an outdoors-focused person, the Summit was also the first time he found himself at the nexus of his personal and professional lives.

“I was inspired to think of new ways I could approach my own life, like what’s out there for me and what are the limitations for me?” he said.

For more information on the 2015 Summit in Park City, Utah, or to register to attend visit