Tahlequah Daily Press

November 5, 2013

Wild West Fest shines spotlight on disabled

By RENEE FITE
Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Games, music and laughter at Norris Park on a Saturday are not unusual. What made this past Saturday special was the intentional focus of a celebration for people with disabilities.

The Wild West Fun Fest was a first-time event created to provide an afternoon of family fun and an opportunity to raise awareness about people who have special needs.

Peggy Kaney, part of the support team for the wheelchair obstacle course, said raising awareness helps people better understand those with disabilities.

“We often don’t think about the different ways people experience the world,” said Kaney

Two wheelchairs were provided for people to try out.

Ten-year-old Ashlee Pierce was finishing the wheelchair obstacle course.

“It’s hard to steer; I didn’t know how hard it was before I tried it,” Pierce said.

Adam Kaney, president of the Northeastern State University disability rights and education group, “We Are People Too” (WAPT), was volunteering with the wheelchair obstacle course.

“I’m glad to be a part of this,” said Adam. “They’re doing the same thing for the community our group is doing for the university.”

Deual Yochum’s parents insisted he find his own way of doing things as he grew up with club arms. Their effort has helped him inspire others.

As the featured speaker for the event, Yochum encouraged people to think positively.

“I’m from this earth, not a different planet; don’t stare at me, talk to me,” he said. “People have underestimated me in the past, but now they accept me because I can do anything: hunt, dance and drive a truck.”

The NSU junior challenged parents not to shelter their children to the point they don’t know how to do anything for themselves.

“Don’t put limitations on yourself, or your children; you’re already beaten if you do,” he said. “My parents insisted I wouldn’t be any different than anyone else. I’m studying pharmacology right now.”

Yochum’s mom, Charlotte Mitchell, had tear-filled eyes as she watched her son speak to the crowd.

“I’m so proud of him. He’s an amazing, godly young man,” said Mitchell. “I’ve always told him everybody has a disability, just some we can see better than others. People are like M&M’s, different on the outside and the same inside,” Mitchell said.

Katrina Luster was enjoying having her face painted.

“I like spending time with Nicki [Scott], and this helps people understand about disabilities,” Luster said. “I have fetal alcohol syndrome and scoliosis.”

Luster’s mom, Cindy Rogers, said both of her daughters were really enjoying the activities.

“We’ve needed something like this for a long time. It helps boost the self-esteem to do something on their level that they can succeed at,” Rogers said.

At the registration desk, Mitzi Reasor was volunteering.

“From a parent’s standpoint, I know how important this is, for the children to feel loved and supported,” Reasor said.

Event founder Nicki Scott said she was really tickled they had enough donations to make the event free for all the participants.

“We’re looking for feedback to accommodate even more people for next year,” Scott said.

And they’re setting up a nonprofit organization to be able to offer donors a tax incentive to help them with larger events and other endeavors, including funding a playground area for those with disabilities.

Tahlequah City Councilor Diane Weston was walking her dog through the park.

“We have a pretty close-knit community. This event shows we, as a community, embrace diversity and this can lead to a lot more,” said Weston.

Building on this event, Weston hopes the city council will consider other opportunities.

“We don’t serve those with disabilities in the best way possible,” Weston said.

“My personal goal is a partner sports/arts program that partners a child with disabilities with a child without disabilities to do sports or arts activities.”