Bridgewater has helped me overcome these challenges by getting support from other people. They’re helping me become an advocate and a leader for the disability community.
Paul Ridikas, ’24, aspires to create a more accessible and accepting world. It’s a broad goal, but Paul is driven by his personal experiences and the opportunities he pursued as a BSU student.
At age 2, Paul was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, a mild case of Asperger’s syndrome, and non-specified pervasive developmental disorder, a condition that affects communication and comprehension.
“Bridgewater has helped me overcome these challenges by getting support from other people,” he said, praising connections with faculty, staff and his peers. “They’re helping me become an advocate and a leader for the disability community.”
Paul especially appreciates BSU’s Access Advocates program. Developed by Student Accessibility Services, the initiative brings together students with and without disabilities. They study physical, technological and other forms of accessibility and complete a service project. Some students even perform an accessibility audit on campus.
Participants have already made a difference by raising awareness and convincing BSU to improve student desks in classrooms, said Tabby Smith, '17, G'20, an accessibility specialist and organizer of Access Advocates.
“I would love for our students to become more aware and confident in their leaderships skills as well as their advocacy,” Smith said, adding that the program stemmed from student interest in promoting accessibility.
Paul, who developed a poster describing how some disabilities are invisible to others, is a passionate student who truly embraces the program, she said.
And his campus involvement extends far beyond Access Advocates. He’s a senator in the Student Government Association and a member of Program Council, Best Buddies and Bears Who Care, among other organizations.
“Bridgewater State has helped me expand my horizons more,” said Paul, who is majoring in communication and media studies and hopes to pursue a graduate degree at BSU. “I think Bridgewater helped me feel empowered to share what I feel and help people.”
Now Paul has set his sights even higher. He hopes to dedicate his career to supporting people with disabilities. Having been a victim of bullying, he would like to spark nationwide changes in how bullying is addressed.
“I’m an advocate for myself and others around me,” he said. “I want to make society a better place for the disability community and make sure people are included.”
The spring semester Access Advocates program begins Jan. 31. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you have a BSU story you'd like to share? Email email@example.com.