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Friday, December 02, 2022

Students experience life with disabilities at dinner event

<p>Rebecca Shionis, a 19-year-old exploratory sophomore, eats dinner at Dining with Disabilities, catered by Kay Bros. BBQ, on Thursday. She had to eat dinner without the use of her hands.</p>

Rebecca Shionis, a 19-year-old exploratory sophomore, eats dinner at Dining with Disabilities, catered by Kay Bros. BBQ, on Thursday. She had to eat dinner without the use of her hands.

In November 2008, Cameron McIntosh was an 18-year-old basketball and football star at his Illinois high school. He ranked 10th in his class academically and hoped to attend UF the next fall. He had 20/20 vision.

This November, McIntosh is a 21-year-old health science junior who is legally blind.

McIntosh was one of four speakers at Dining with Disabilities, an event Thursday which gave participants the chance to "take on" a disability during a meal.

The event was part of Student Government's Disability Awareness Week.

Organizers assigned participants one of four disabilities: sight loss, hearing loss, loss of hand use or speech loss.

Rebecca Shionis, a 19-year-old exploratory sophomore, lost hand use for the duration of the meal.

"I feel like if this was a full-time thing, it'd be really hard," she said. "I can't imagine."

Tommy Smith, a professor in UF's College of Pharmacy, also spoke.

Smith underwent about a dozen amputation surgeries after he was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis.

The infection causes swelling and inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, according to the PubMed Health website.

Today, Smith is wheelchair-bound and does not have hands.

He said he appreciated the effort that participants showed in taking on disabilities.

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"I think it's wonderful," Smith said. "It's really nice to see students out here who are emulating different disabilities and are trying to adapt and eat dinner."

In his senior year of high school, McIntosh noticed problems when he couldn't see the TV out of his left eye. After months of tests, doctors diagnosed him with Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, a rare genetic disease that causes blindness.

"Every morning there's new challenges," he said.

During his first year at UF, not playing sports was a challenge, he said.

However, during his sophomore year, his aunt suggested he try rowing. After researching the sport online, he tried out for the UF crew team.

He made the team.

"It's been a really important thing in my life," he said.

Rebecca Shionis, a 19-year-old exploratory sophomore, eats dinner at Dining with Disabilities, catered by Kay Bros. BBQ, on Thursday. She had to eat dinner without the use of her hands.

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