March is National Disabilities Awareness Month and to mark the occasion, Butler’s chapter of Best Buddies is organizing events geared toward directing attention to those affected by intellectual disabilities.
Butler’s chapter has approximately 90 members and is the largest in Indiana. It is part of more than 1,500 national and international chapters of Best Buddies International.
According to its website, the organization’s mission is “to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
One of the hallmarks of the chapter’s work this month will be the “End the R-Word” campaign, which is in its third year at Butler.
March 2 is the national day to sign the pledge, but Butler’s Best Buddies chapter will be offering students the opportunity to sign the pledge throughout the month.
According to Butler chapter president, senior integrated communications and Spanish major Graham Kilian, the campaign’s message has often been challenged and misunderstood in the past.
“I want to be clear that were not trying to remove the word from the English language,” Kilian said. “We’re trying to educate people about the consequences of using the word and how it affects people. It’s not any sort of attack on free speech.”
Events coordinator for the Butler chapter, psychology and French major Elizabeth Erb said she agrees and said encouraging people to consider their use of the word.
“It’s more about encouraging people to think and understand the underlying implications of what the word means,” Erb said.
Through Best Buddies, students are matched with a person from the Indianapolis area with an intellectual disability.
For the past four years, Kilian has been working with Derek, a 26-year old with cerebral palsy.
“Best Buddies gives people with disabilities that extra confidence they need,” Kilian said. “It’s often not that they cannot do something, but they’re not given the opportunity to do so.
“It’s taught me to truly appreciate everything I have and not take things for granted.”
Kilian said the increased membership of the chapter this year has allowed it to utilize better marketing skills such as signage and posters, as well as word of mouth, to make the campaign more visible.
Throughout the month, the chapter plans to maintain a presence on campus, encouraging students to sign the pledge.
The campaign will culminate in a large chapter event on March 27. Details are still in the works, but Kilian is looking at organizing a talent show or karaoke night.