On Tuesday, March 21 the City of Valparaiso recognized Disability Awareness Month with a presentation given by Jason Benetti, a nationally recognized sports announcer for Fox and the Chicago White Sox who has cerebral palsy. Benetti’s compelling story proved to the audience that a disability can be a tremendous strength.
Last October, the City held a “My Point of View” dinner and invited several Valparaiso families from the disability community to share their experiences with everyone. The event ended up having an amazing turnout and was ultimately a very meaningful and eye-opening opportunity. As a result, the City administration realized they wanted to do more to enhance awareness in the community.
“The opportunity hear from local families was just so great—we knew we had something going on. We knew we needed to go even deeper, and that’s why we’re here tonight,” said Valparaiso Mayor Matt Murphy.
The goal for this year’s first-ever Disability Awareness Spotlight Presentation was to advance the conversation of disabilities in a friendly, welcoming environment. “We really just wanted to focus on education. Oftentimes we tend to judge a book by its cover—we meet someone with a disability and we don’t know what to say or how to interact. We wanted to bring in resources and speakers to help educate our residents and encourage them to go up and engage and not be afraid to ask questions,” said Patrick Lyp, Valparaiso city attorney.
After a wholesome meet and greet session and some incredible opening remarks, Benetti took to the stage to share his story of growing up with cerebral palsy. He shared the challenges he’s faced due to people making assumptions about him based on his disability and explained how this needs to change. He then spoke positively about the many people in his life who saw his potential, pushed him, and gave him the tools to create his own success.
“I encourage everybody in this room to be the person that asks for more of the person with a disability. Go be the person who does more not by giving care but by nurturing the value of that person. Help them go above and beyond rather than give them the easiest job available. That’s what’s made me who I am: people saying that I can be something well beyond,” said Benetti.
Benetti then ended his story with a powerful piece of advice.
“We should never judge a book by its cover, but if you are the type of person who might get judged for your cover, make yourself readable. Make yourself the most vivid book full of bright detail. Make yourself a page-turner and let people get lost in the book that you are because at that point it is very difficult to put you down,” said Benetti.
The presentation closed with a Q&A session in which audience members got to ask Benetti a variety of questions. It was moving to see so many people engaged and coming together through a shared passion.
“It’s nice to get people to come out, interact, connect, and create an interesting dialogue. It really brings people together,” said Lyp.
The event ultimately proved how important it is to spread awareness and provide more education about diversity and inclusion. The night was a huge success, and the City of Valparaiso is already looking forward to the event’s future.
“This is a big night for us. We hope to do this every year and keep building on it and making it better. So many people have a disability—my dad is a disabled veteran—so this is something that impacts a lot of people. We want it to be helpful,” said Murphy.
Of course, the presentation wouldn’t have been possible without the kindness of the community. Murphy was touched by how many people came together to make this dream a reality.
“I want to thank all of the sponsors who helped make this happen. There’s been such tremendous support—we have a very generous sponsor community. I also want to thank the Disability Awareness and Inclusion Subcommittee of our Advisory Human Relations Council. They did so much work for this and came up with some amazing ideas,” said Murphy.
To learn more about the City of Valparaiso and its efforts to increase disability awareness, visit the website here.