High school is a time when students often discover their passions and share them with others. For sophomore Soumya Joseph, and juniors Lindsay Mutzman and Kimberly Brower, this passion was spreading awareness for intellectual and developmental disabilities all across the CCHS campus through the creation of their project, Disable the Label.
Disable the Label has been in the works for many weeks, as these three individuals prepared for their “Disable the Label Week of Events,” which took place from November 10 to November 14.
“So far, we’ve had a yoga event which went well; everybody liked being able to relax for an hour, and we have a fundraiser where proceeds go to the Best Buddies organization,” Brower said. “Then we have a guest speaker and Kahoot event combined, and our final event is Zumba.”
Their first event of the week was supposed to take place on Monday, November 9 with some guest speakers present, but was canceled due to Hurricane Eta. This event was moved to Friday, November 13. Disable the Label collaborated with Best Buddies to select a few guest speakers. Junior Ray Omega, who is a member of Best Buddies, was selected as one of these speakers for the event.
“[I spoke] because I just want to encourage some people that are going through some disabilities [and] that are having a rough time with their disability.”Junior Ray Omega
“[I spoke] because I just want to encourage some people that are going through some disabilities [and] that are having a rough time with their disability,” Omega said. “I have done public speaking with my aftercare and First Priority speaking [before].”
The goal of the Disable the Label project is to end the use of the “r-word” and promote awareness for individuals with intellectual development disorders (IDD). IDD is a neuro-developmental disorder that can lead to differences in intellectual, social, practical and/or academic functioning.
“This project was created [by] me and my partners, and we have basically planned everything on our own,” Mutzman said. “We are so excited for this project and we hope we can do our part to eliminate the use of the ‘r-word.’”
Mutzman, Brower and Joseph started this as a community awareness chapter project for Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), but decided to make it a schoolwide event by collaborating with Best Buddies, a club with the same goals as Disable the Label.
“We partnered with DECA and their Disable the Label campaign because we wanted to spread our message of inclusion and promote who we are as a club.”Best Buddies President Natalie Smith
“We partnered with DECA and their Disable the Label campaign because we wanted to spread our message of inclusion and promote who we are as a club,” Best Buddies President Natalie Smith said. “As Best Buddies member[s], we advocate for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and the first step to that is to publicize Best Buddies. I hope Best Buddies members gain insight as to how important awareness is and how easy it can be to spread our message. I hope they see that every member is valuable and that they all have an impact on Best Buddies.”
Disable the Label has primarily been promoted through Instagram. On September 19, they created their first post, introducing the club to the CCHS community. Since then, they have gained a following of over 130 individuals, who have been able to stay up-to-date with upcoming events.
Before the “Disable the Label Week of Events,” the creators of the project held “Fun Fact Friday,” where they posted a fact every Friday leading up to the week of events. The goal of this was to spread awareness and engage individuals in the purpose of this project.
Throughout their week of events, Disable the Label promoted awareness and inclusion on the CCHS campus virtually. Although the future of this project is unknown, Mutzman, Brower and Joseph hope to continue to make a difference through their community service project.
“Though this project is [only] one week, we want to continue spreading awareness for intellectual and developmental disabilities and eliminate the use of the ‘r-word,’” Joseph said. “Hopefully, in the future, we get a chance to continue our project and have events like this again.”
Ray Omega’s speech
At the Disable the Label Guest Speaker event on November 13, Best Buddies member Ray Omega delivered the following speech:
There is a young man who was born with many health challenges.
He had open-heart surgery and six different surgeries before he was five years old.
This young man knew he was different, and the world made sure he knew it.
He had a hard time communicating his needs. He did not like to play with other kids his age.
He was smaller, shorter and weaker than most of his peers.
He could not eat regular food like other kids his age and everything was a challenge for him.
He was always sick and had to be hospitalized.
By the age of seven, he attended a small Christian school where some of his classmates were not pleasant.
They treated him differently and he did not know any better.
He simply wanted to fit in.
His faith in God got him through many struggles.
He simply wanted to fit in.
He loved to pray and worship, so he started to lead worship and prayer during the morning devotion at school.
There, he earned the respect of staff, students and parents.
His doctors could not diagnose his disability.
He was told that he was developmentally delayed.
Finally, in April 2017, through a special program at Memorial Hospital for kids with special needs, he was diagnosed with Kabuki Syndrome.
This disorder affects multiple parts of the body with varying symptoms, the most common is the unique facial features.
This young man is me. I am Ray Emmanuel Omega, and I am here to remind everyone of the Golden Rule: to treat others how you want to be treated.
I share my journey with you to raise awareness on how we treat each other.
You never know what someone is going through.
I dream to be the Pastor of a church and to share with the world that my disability does not define me.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my journey with you. Be blessed!
Photos courtesy of Lindsay Mutzman