How UMD DOTS is helping students with an invisible disabilities enjoy their commute

Photo courtesy of the UMD Department of Transportation Services.

Photo courtesy of the UMD Department of Transportation Services.

The University of Maryland Department of Transportation Services is taking a stand for students with an invisible disability. After speaking with a student living with an invisible disability about her experience riding the campus shuttle, according to Plewinski, assistant director for marketing and communications for the Department of Transportations Services, DOTS launched “Will you stand for me?” in  spring 2019, a campaign that teaches passengers about others forms of disability and is encouraging able-bodied students to give up their seats.

Invisible disabilities are defined as physical, mental or neurological conditions that impact the person’s movements, senses or activities, and are not visible to others, according to the Invisible Disabilities Association.

It refers to symptoms such as debilitating pain, dizziness, brain injuries, dyslexia and mental health disorders. If a person is affected by symptoms above, they are living with an invisible disability.

In 2000, a study published by the University of California Disability Statistics Center found that 74 percent of Americans are living with a severe disability and do not use assistive devices. At the time of the publication of the study, the California Statistics center reported to the the Survey of Income and Program  at least one in 10 Americans were living with a disability.

Riding the campus shuttle can pose unique challenges for students affected by an invisible disability. Colleen Crowley, a broadcast student believes that the campaign will help students become aware of these disabilities. “ Several of my friends have invisible illnesses and they’ve told me about the challenges they face being ill on the inside, but looking perfectly healthy on the outside” said  Crowley. She thinks the campaign is a nice idea and hopes it raises awareness for invisible illnesses.

DOTS encourages students to give up their seats when asked. Elena Macias, master student in broadcast, thinks it is a good idea to encourage students to give up their seats. “ Not all illnesses or disabilities are visible to the naked eye and sometimes people don’t realize that.” said Macias  

She wants students to take advantage of this campaign that will bring awareness and make people more compassionate to those who are dealing with diseases like chronic fatigue syndrome, vision or hearing impairments and mental health issues.

Cara Fleck Plewinski, assistant director for marketing and communications for DOTS, believes giving up your seat when asked of is an act of integrity. “A person who is already sitting and is asked to stand might be a person who truly needs to sit,” Plewinski said. “However, there’s not always a way to prove that a person needs a seat. This is why we are encouraging passengers to practice integrity.”

“A person who needs a seat on the bus may not feel comfortable asking another passenger to stand” said Plewinski.

Plewinski knows it will be a little difficult to ask for a seat without explanation. “We can’t force someone to stand” said Plewinski. She believes it is only up to the person the person asked to make the right decision.

Plewinski encourages students with disabilities to voice their needs. “However, no one knows you need a seat unless you ask. An explanation is not required,” said Plewinski.  

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