Disability as Diversity

Erin Waterman (second from right) was the keynote speaker at the Disability Advocacy Assembly
(Pictured in the center) Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2018 Shavaughn Barnes and (from the right) DPT students Brandi Black and keynote speaker Erin Waterman attended the Disability Advocacy Assembly.

On Thursday, Sept. 6, Erin Waterman, a second-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student, gave the keynote speech at the inaugural Disability Advocacy Assembly, which was hosted by the University of Florida Disability Resource Center.

With about 75 guests in attendance, the goal of this event was to provide insight and information about disability to students. Erin’s speech, Mountain Leg, addressed those topics and explained how disability is a form of diversity.

“My speech was an extended metaphor on what living with a disability is like and how people with disabilities are equal contributors to the community,” Erin said. “People with disabilities live their life on a ‘mountain’ because everyday activities lack accessibility. Their diverse experiences bring diverse viewpoints, all of which strengthen ours and the university’s abilities to meet today’s challenges.”

Erin Waterman working with a child with developmental disabilities at Balance 180.
Erin Waterman (pictured to the right) working with a child at Balance 180.

Erin’s research on students with disabilities and her advocacy in the Gainesville community gave her the right perspective to give this keynote speech, as well as another speech in 2016 at the Equity and Diversity Conference.

“My passion for working with people with disabilities stems from working with Dr. Christine Stopka out of the UF College of Health and Human Performance. Dr. Stopka was one of the first to show the effects of exercise on individuals with disabilities,” she said.

Her passion to advocate for young people with disabilities led Erin to choose the UF DPT Program — particularly because of the program’s commitment to research, education, and service.

“We have more community service involvement and hands-on experiences in our first year than any other program,” she expressed. “Our community involvement is further enhanced by the leadership roles we take on as second years.”

Within the Rehabilitation Education Activity & Community Health (REACH) programs, DPT students participate in community engagement activities, enabling them to develop the necessary clinical leadership skills for when they graduate. Erin currently serves as the co-leader for the Children on The Go REACH program, where she works with kids with developmental disabilities performing adaptive gymnastics at Balance 180.

“My goal is to be the best physical therapist I can be and contribute to the immediate and future well-being of people with disabilities. These are the same goals that brought me to UF DPT.”