'Access Denied': Disabled students discuss challenges
By KATE STEER
Assistant News Editor
It takes a lot of courage to be different.
Four women shared their stories of being different and living with disabilities Wednesday night in a seminar entitled "Access Denied."
Yasmin Voglewede, a Notre Dame senior PLS and Spanish double major, said she has learned a lot from her experience as a physically disabled student. As a panelist for a new diversity program included in freshman orientation, Voglewede has had the opportunity to teach others about differences.
"What I want to do is go out there and fight for people's rights," said Voglewede, who hopes to go to law school.
Christina Gilmore, Miss Wheelchair America 1999, was also present to discuss the issue. Gilmore, who is now an assistant dean of a small college in Texas, became interested in advocacy of disability issues when asked about people's perceptions of her as a white woman.
"When I go down the street or the sidewalk or when I am in the store, people don't see me as a white woman; they see me as a disabled woman," she said.
Jamie Przybysz, a first-year graduate student in sociology, lost her hearing after a tumor was discovered on her auditory nerve at the beginning of her freshman year of high school.
"I dreaded the day that I would wake up deaf," she said. She thought she would not be able to be happy as a deaf woman, and said she started to pull away from people because she thought others had a negative perception of her.
"I know I have power because I have been through this," said Przybysz. "Now when I see people with disabilities, I don't pity them, but I still don't recognize the power in them."
Przybysz has no trouble speaking, but she utilizes technology and the help of others to hear. In her classes, someone types lectures onto a laptop screen so she can read what is being said.
Lori Miller, a 1997 Notre Dame graduate and current student at Western Michigan University, spoke of her experience as a blind student and the barriers she encounters.
"For people who are blind or vision-impaired, accessibility isn't an issue of physical barriers, but in obtaining information: street signs, magazines, fliers, advertisements of social events — I miss out on a lot of these things," she said.
The panelists agreed that their experiences, though difficult, have given them insight and strength to make positive change in the world, especially in people's perceptions of them and public accessibility.
"Everyone has something to contribute, and the key is to overcome the limits that are set. I have to find an alternative method or media to obtain information," said Miller.
"The key to maintaining satisfaction and happiness is being able to go where I want when I want," she said. Accessibility and accommodation play large roles in such freedom.
Voglewede praised the University's efforts to make the campus wheelchair accessible. "Snow is my biggest problem," she said.
"There are people here who are willing to go out on a limb and make me as comfortable as they are," she said.
Gilmore works on reducing attitudinal inaccessibility rather than physical barriers.
"Discriminatory attitudes are prevalent. The unemployment rate of the country is eight percent, but 70 percent of the country's disabled population is unemployed," she said.
All participants voiced optimism for the future of disabled persons. Technology promises greater accessibility to information, communication and transportation. The goal of such advances are to provide equal opportunities to everyone.
"While society says we're different, we're the same as everyone else," said Przybysz.
The panel discussion was sponsored by the Multicultural Executive Council.
All News Stories for Thursday, December 2, 1999