LOWELL -- More than 100 people showed up for Disable the Label's "Play for Inclusion" event this March.
That's a good turnout for any UMass Lowell student group event, but it was particularly heartening for the men and women behind Disable the Label. Not only had they engaged their fellow students, they had done it on a subject that many people might prefer to avoid thinking about: the stigma faced by people with mental and physical disabilities.
"It kind of gave them a feeling that they might not otherwise have been able to have," Zachary Zuber said of the teenagers with disabilities who were the focus of the event, which included a floor-hockey clinic and game.
The same could be said of the UMass students who turned out to participate.
Zuber, who graduated earlier this month, and his fellow Disable the Label executive board members, had their hard work recognized by the university, which named them the 2015-2016 Student Organization of the Year.
"People here at the university want to line up behind a good message and a good mission," said John Romano, another recent graduate and the outgoing president of the club.
Disable the Label is only a couple of years old, but the group has already had success spreading its message.
The club hosts regular American Sign Language classes for students, has run scavenger hunts that highlight the difficulties students with disabilities often face around campus, and has worked with the university administration to increase accessibility.
Several members joined the club because they plan to work in fields, like nursing, where they will interact closely with people with disabilities. Others were drawn to it after seeing the challenges their peers face.
Mackenzie Carr remembered speaking with a woman in a wheelchair who constantly struggled to make it to classes on time.
"It was kind of eye-opening that I can rush out and get to class on time and people with disabilities can't necessarily do that," she said.
Most of Disable the Label's executive board graduated earlier this month, but the group has had little trouble filling the spots in the past. Incoming president Brenna Stewart said she plans to continue popular events like the sign-language classes, but will also be working with her new team to spice up campus life with new events.
"A lot of the time it's not that people are ignorant and don't want to learn about (stigma)," Carr said. "They just haven't had the opportunity."