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Gaining Visibility through Disability: Patrick Downes '05 & Jessica Kensky

The UGBC Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD) kicked off their Abilities Awareness Week with a Q & A highlighting Patrick Downes ‘05 and Jessica Kensky.

Patrick and Jessica are survivors of the patriots Day bombing at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Newlyweds at the time, they sustained injuries in the bombing that left Patrick with one below-the-knee amputation and Jessica with two below-the-knee amputations. They were eventually placed at Walter Reed Army Medical center due to the resemblance of their injuries to those sustained overseas by soldiers. Jessica stressed how their injuries were “like a paper cut” compared to the veterans she saw being treated at the center. Despite this, they found a community at Walter Reed that helped them recover both physically and mentally.  

They shared how integrating back into society after being at Walter Reed was a difficult thing for them. Before their injuries, they lived in an apartment with small doors and no elevator; they had also been walking everywhere constantly. Things that used to be effortless turned into a “production” and a reminder of how they had changed.

Both Jessica and Patrick were hit by the reality of their situation after the hospital as the support system was considerably smaller. They recalled times where hotels would promise them an accessible room, and then book it to someone else prior to their arrival, or where a room that was deemed accessible would have shower seats that would fall, creating a major health risk to the user. These are just some of the challenges that they faced.

Recently, the challenges faced by students with disabilities at BC have garnered greater awareness due to the efforts made by CSD and student publications. 

When asked about how they felt about Boston College’s accessibility, Patrick emphasized that, while Boston College needs to strive to be safe for students with disabilities, what is more meaningful is making campus a welcoming place for these students. He referenced the small hallways on Upper campus, the stairs required to access Upper campus, and the realities of off-campus housing and how inaccessible that can be for students with disabilities. Jessica pointed out that, during her visits, she had noticed a few doors without push buttons that she was unable to open due to the weight. 

Patrick also reflected on how his single amputation, which can be hidden under long pants, allows him to “move in and out of the space of having a physical and an invisible disability.” He remarked that while this gives him some privilege, “you cannot have privacy and consideration at the same time.” Patrick and Jessica both recalled incidents of being invalidated by others while doing normal things like parking or walking. 

At the end of the event, Jessica showed the Zoom audience her service dog, Rescue. Jessica emphasized how Rescue has been crucial to both her physical and mental recovery, despite not being trained explicitly as a therapy dog. Jessica and Patrick have even placed Rescue as the subject of their picture book, Rescue and Jessica: A Life-Changing Friendship. The book is about the bond between Jessica and Rescue and is a rare piece of representation in the children’s genre. It can be found here.

A sophomore whose core personality trait is having too many majors and minors. Talk to me about the Daredevil TV show, Moby Dick or musical theatre anytime.