UT Tyler Empathy Dinner raises awareness about living with disabilities

Dozens of students at the University of Texas at Tyler spent the evening with a simulated challenge in an attempt to learn more about individuals who have disabilities.

The Theta Pi Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity sponsored an ‘Empathy Dinner’ on Wednesday, March 8, 2017, to raise awareness for its philanthropy, The Ability Experience, which serves people with disabilities.

As students arrived at the University Center ballroom, they were assigned various simulated disabilities or challenges for the duration of the dinner. Some were given blindfolds, earplugs, while others were prohibited from speaking or had to keep an arm behind their back. Each person was assigned a partner, who would offer assistance if requested.

A spaghetti dinner and salad from Bruno’s Italian Restaurant was served at the dinner, which was co-sponsored by the UT Tyler Student Government Association, Office of Student Life and Leadership, Greek Life, and UT Tyler Student Services.

This opportunity allowed Pi Kappa Phi members to engage their peers in a conversation about the difference between “sympathy” and “empathy.”

Having partners assigned with each simulated disability also called attention to the role caregivers, friends, family members, and peers can play in the lives of others.

After the meal, members led a group discussion about the purpose of the empathy dinner as well as the vision of The Ability Experience, which aims “to create a community, one relationship at a time, where the abilities of all people are recognized and valued.”

Member Austin Doyle spoke about his experience last summer with the Ability Experience’s Gear Up Florida cycling trek. He also shared about his educational journey in deciding to be a Special Education major at UT Tyler.

Those in attendance were invited to take a pledge to “Spread the Word to End the Word” by signing their name on a banner in support of swearing off the “R-word.”

Sean Reinertson, the Theta Pi Chapter’s Ability Experience chairman, invited students to the upcoming “Peg A Pi Kapp” fundraiser and cycling marathon in the coming weeks.

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