WSU faculty engage in Pi Kappa Phi ability obstacle course

In the sunny afternoon Tuesday on the east lawn of the Rhatigan Student Center, Chas Thompson walked through a zig-zagging obstacle course of orange traffic cones toward the finish line: two speakers blasting music.

“It was disorienting because I’m used to having my sight,” said Thompson, coordinator of student organizations for Student Involvement.

Pi Kappa Phi, a Wichita State associate chapter, created the obstacle course as part of the Ability Experience, which is a nonprofit organization that serves individuals with disabilities. The course was part two of a three-day event that will conclude with Pie a Pi Kapp on Wednesday on the east lawn of the RSC.

“It’s just raising awareness for people with disabilities or different abilities,” said junior William Benjamin, vice president of Pi Kappa Phi.

Benjamin made sure to use people-first language and emphasized the phrase “different abilities” over “disabilities.”

The obstacle course consisted of about 10 orange traffic cones, connected by string to form the course boundaries, and two “bases” to delineate start and finish. The bases produce a beeping sound so that blind individuals can follow the noise, like echolocation. Participants had the choice of using crutches, a wheelchair or a blindfold to attempt the course.

The “beep” in one of the bases shorted out Tuesday and had to be replaced with two mobile speakers from the RSC.

Only about five people, which mostly included Pi Kapp members, completed the course until multiple WSU staff members, like Thompson and Jonathan Flesher, Campus Ministries director, arrived.

Garcia originally came up with an idea for an ability carnival, where people could get a feeling for what it’s like having certain disabilities in various games, but he eventually scaled down the idea to an obstacle course.

“We want to put people in a position where they have to experience an everyday task with a different ability,” Garcia said.

Kenni Fitzpatrick, student advocate and Ability Club mentor, assisted Garcia and Pi Kapp with the obstacle course, and even went through with a blindfold herself.

“Ability Club is about advocating for people and finding ways to promote resources on campus,” Fitzpatrick said. “[It’s also about] inclusion, because I feel like no one really has a main club to represent disabilities.”

Fitzpatrick has already had her own set of experiences with disabilities.

“My best friend, she’s legally blind, so when I get lost on campus she knows where to go,” she said.

Thompson said he didn’t think he could have made it through the obstacle course without the help of his blindfolded co-worker, whose shoulder he held onto throughout the course.

He was only able to partially understand what it’s like to be blind after finishing the obstacle course.

“I don’t have the same experience of growing and going through it day-to-day,” Thompson said. “It was a small glimpse into what it is like (to be blind).”