Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Organization seeks to help special-needs students

At first glance, Holly appears to be a typical 19-year-old girl texting on a couch. It is not obvious that she is a special needs student until someone strikes up a conversation with her.

Holly is a participant in Best Buddies, an international organization that works to develop one-on-one relationships between special needs students and college students.

“Best Buddies strives to integrate students with special needs into mainstream society in order to help them to maximize their productivity and social interaction,” said Ashley Douglass, a freshman majoring in elementary education who serves as Holly’s buddy.

Heather Houghton, president of the UA chapter of Best Buddies, said they mainly focus on helping adults with intellectual disabilities to develop leadership and social skills. Participants commit to contacting their buddies at least once a month via phone call or visit. Houghton said she is extremely close to her own best buddy.

“I’ve been with her for four years. I really want her to come to my wedding,” Houghton said.

She has led the UA chapter in throwing themed parties throughout the year for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day so that the buddies have a chance to dress up and celebrate.

“I got to be a witch for Halloween,” Holly said.

Douglas finds a picture on her cell phone of Holly as a witch and the two reminisce about all of the fun they had dressing up and singing karaoke.

“She loves to sing,” Douglas said.

Vice President Joshua Gautney said the important part is developing friendships with the buddies.

“You eventually find that these guys have a lot to bring to the table,” Gautney said.

Many of the students involved in Best Buddies have had the same buddy for years, and have developed real, lasting friendships. Gautney said Best Buddies is a rewarding way of helping others and gaining appreciation for what you have.

“It’s a matter of perspective,” Gautney said. “You think that your problems are huge, and then you spend time with your buddy and realize just how blessed you are.”

The organization is currently launching a campaign called “Ban the ‘R’ Word” to increase awareness that the word “retarded” can be taken as offensive to those with mental disabilities. Many people use the word “retarded” in everyday language without even realizing that they are using it to describe a difficult test or event that they feel to be unfair.

“The ‘R’ word is mocking even when used in an innocent connotation,” Gautney said. “These people do not have the resilience that many people have, and because their confidences are so fragile it is difficult to build them back up when words like this continually tear them down.”

The “Ban the ‘R’ Word” campaign is a campus-wide effort to increase awareness and respect for those with special needs.

A banner will be hung in the Ferguson Center this week signed by all of the buddies and community leaders who support this campaign.

“It’s about seeing people for their abilities rather than their disabilities,” Douglas said.

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