Southeast student with disabilities spreads awareness about traffic concerns

Disabled SEMO student spreads awareness about traffic concerns

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - As you drive around in your vehicle, you will notice many different road signs.

Some for pedestrians, as well as others for crosswalks and handicap accessible areas.

One woman wants to make sure drivers are aware of signs, crosswalks and handicap accessible areas because they are essential to those with disabilities.

Kayla Patek is a senior at Southeast Missouri State University.

"You need to be more aware of the people with disabilities because they have to do things differently than you do," Patek said.

Patek was born three months premature. She had brain surgeries when she was younger and is legally blind.

She walks around campus from class to class, always wearing her special cataract glasses to allow her some vision.

She is originally from Festus, Mo. and has excelled in school and in life.

She always had someone there to help guide her along the way, but in time, she proved she could do it on her own and attended college in Cape Girardeau. However, there were plenty of hurdles she still had to get through.

"I got my associates in May which was super awesome because I had people that didn't think I could do that when I totally did. I proved them wrong," Patek stated.

Patek, along with others with disabilities, walks around town which can be challenging at times, especially when drivers violate simple traffic ordinances.

“I guess they just don’t know enough about vision impairment that they don’t have the perspective I do,” Patek said. “They unintentionally block the crosswalk. It’s a danger to people with vision impairments.”

It’s not just crosswalks though. It’s depth perception deception with curbs and steps and many other challenges that most people don’t think about.

It’s why Patek wanted to help bring awareness to others by giving several presentations to classes across the Southeast campus.

“I call the presentations, ‘Becoming an ally. How you can help a visually impaired student on campus,’” Patek said.

Southeast University Department of Communications Studies and Modern Languages Professor Jeanne Harris said Patek came to her in the classroom about the various areas she might need help within the classroom and overall through her life travels.

Harris encouraged Patek to voice her concerns to help herself and everyone else dealing with similar challenges.

"What we want is to help students find their voice, find that thing that they are passionate about, then go out and take a stand for that thing they believe in," Harris said.

Even Patek’s classmate, Sophia Davis, said it’s not uncommon for people to be aware of the certain physical and mental challenges that other individuals face on a daily basis. She also said it’s important for Patek’s voice to be heard.

"Keeping the streets safe for everyone is important," Davis said. "Utilizing the crosswalks, stopping at the crosswalks for pedestrians, it's all really necessary to be followed."

Davis mentioned she saw a person hit by a car last year that resulted from people not paying attention. That’s why she said it is so necessary to spread the word and hopes that people get the message.

"It's necessary everywhere for there to be places for people to cross and places for drivers to drive," David stated. "That's why we have sidewalks, crosswalks and all those other things because there is a system there in place to keep people safe. However, if that is ignored, then it becomes rather haywire."

“Well, obviously, we see what happens when they don’t abide by it. They block the crosswalks and people like Kayla can’t get through,” Harris added. “It’s not fair. We need to educate folks so that they understand the reason it’s problematic. I think most people will respond positively. I think they want to help.”

Patek said those with disabilities often need a little more time to get where they are going so patience and awareness from drivers is important.

She also emphasized with those who have disabilities and shared her voice to help support them for everyday needs and challenges they face in their life.

“Don’t let the disability define you,” Patek mentioned. “Just try to get through life. Yes, you do have your challenges with that disability but don’t let it stop you from doing what you want to do.”

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