Student concerned how people with disabilities are treated

By Mitchel Roland - Staff Reporter

Ros Damm just wants to be like any other Highline student. But activities that are typ- ically mundane or simple for other students, such as going to a dance or talking to friends, can be difficult for him. That's because Damm has cerebral

According to the Cerebral

Palsy Group, the disease affects approximately 500,000 people in the U.S., and around 8,000 babies are diagnosed each year. Symptoms for cerebral palsy in- clude cognitive disabilities, epi- lepsy and vision problems.

Damm said that he has dealt with name calling and ridicule his entire life.

"My whole life, people made fun of me," Damm said. "People think I am the R-word."

But an incident at the recent winter dance left Damm con- cerned.

Damm said that at the dance, he approached another student who has a disability to try to be their friend. That student re jected Damm, which hurt his feelings.

"He assumed that I was crazy and that I hurt people," he said. "That guy doesn't know me."

These assumptions could not be further from the truth, Damm said.

"I'm always caring, loving, and understanding," he said. Since that interaction,

Damm said that he no longer feels safe on campus.

"I feel that we should be an open campus," he said. "They [people with disabilities] want to be a part of campus. They want to make friends."

Damm said that people with disabilities come to school for safety.

"They come to campus to feel safe and have a safe hav- en," he said.

Originally from Cambo- dia, Damm first started at Highline in 2003 as a part of the ABE/GED/ESL program, and he was later involved in the Achieve program.

This spring, the 38-year- old Damm will graduate with an AA degree is psychology, and he doesn't plan on stop- ping. Damm said that he hopes to get a bachelor's de- gree, and one day even get a Ph.D.

"I'm a person that grew up around people who said 'You're not gonna make it,'" Damm said. "I proved them wrong."

Damm said that his work advocating for people with disabilities shows his com- passion.

"A crazy person does not go to Olympia to fight for people's rights," he said. "A crazy person doesn't get involved with the Special Olympics."

Throughout his life, Damm said he has worked to help those who have disabil- ities.

"I'm a very strong advo- cate for this community," he said.

One of Damm's goals is to get rid of the negative stereo- types that surround people who have disabilities.

"The truth is that mentally ill people don't hurt people," he said.

Damm said that he wants to promote more under- standing of disabilities for everyone on campus.

"I hope that all staff, stu- dents, and faculty will un- derstand that there are peo- ple with disabilities," Damm said. "We're all one big fam- ily."

Damm said that when he walks around campus, he talks to himself not because he is "crazy," but because he is extremely social and he is lonely.

"The reason I talk to my- self is because I have no friends," he said.

But if you see him on cam- pus, don't be afraid to strike up a conversation.

"If you see me around, don't be shy. Say hi, I'll wave to you," he said. "I don't fight, I try to make friends."

Damm said when you in- teract with people who have disabilities, you have to see what they're going through and show empathy.

"You have to put yourself in their shoes," he said.

Damm said that the person at the dance judged him be- fore they even knew him. But doing this can be harmful, he said.

"You can't judge people by what you think," he said.

International Engagement Leadership Adviser Gar- vaundo Hamilton said that events such as the one at the dance can be used as a ben- efit.

"I think it is important to use this as a stepping stone to get more allies," Hamilton said. "Diversity includes peo- ple with disabilities."

Hamilton said that when you are talking to someone, you should see them for who they are, and not fixate on any disability they might have.

"Focus on the person, while trying to avoid the dis- ability," Hamilton said.

Damm just wants every- one to know the power that their words have.

"There are people out there who don't know who they are," he said. "And if you tell them, they'll believe you."

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