GRAB BAG: Help available for students with disabilities

By Paige Karius
The Scene staff

Being a student with cerebral palsy at Forest Park has its challenges, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how accommodating people on campus can be.

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to college because of my bad experiences in high school. I was bullied by other students and neglected by personal-care attendants. But a case manager at Paraquad encouraged me to give it a try.

I visited both the Forest Park and Meramec campuses of St. Louis Community College, and I picked Forest Park because I felt more comfortable.

One place for students with disabilities to find help is the college’s Access Office. It provides equipment and other tools they need to succeed in college, based on their Individual Education Plans.

For example, someone visually impaired might benefit from a special magnifying device. I personally use speech-recognition software that enables words that I say aloud to be typed into a computer.

The Academic Support Center is also a great resource. Its tutors help me understand class materials and student workers help me write papers, including this column.

The assistance doesn’t just come from people doing their jobs. Many students, faculty and staff members help out of the kindness of their hearts. They treat me like family.

One day, my wheelchair tilted to one side on a ramp coming up from the basement. Luckily, a security guard and a bunch of my friends were able to get me stabilized until my father arrived with a wheelchair repairman.

It seems like there are always people willing to help at Forest Park, no matter the situation. I’ve become more comfortable and outgoing. I don’t hesitate to speak up.

I never signed up for any extracurricular activities in high school. But at Forest Park, I helped form the Disability Awareness Club, and I now serve as president. This summer, I started writing a column for The Scene.

Of course, not everything is perfect for students with disabilities at Forest Park. Getting from floor to floor can be quite difficult, especially for people unfamiliar with campus.

Sometimes, the automatic doors going into E Tower are turned off. I usually can ask someone to flip an overhead switch or open the door manually, but I like to be as independent as possible.

Because I am in a wheelchair, elevators are a necessity. It’s frustrating when they’re out of order. Searching for a working elevator can require traveling through several towers, just to go up one or two floors.

There are plenty of other small challenges. I went to a professor’s office to ask a question the other day, and it was so crowded, I got stuck between the door and a chair. Many offices are small, so I’ve started meeting professors in hallways.

Note takers assigned through the Access Office are incredibly helpful, but it can be tricky when you don’t see eye to eye with them. One woman refused to read questions aloud during a test, even though I have poor vision.

If you are disabled and something like that happens, go to your case manager in the Access Office, and he or she will try to get you another note taker.

Whether or not a college has a “positive” or “negative” environment, the experience is often what you make of it. Extra-curricular activities can be fun, and they look good on resumes or job applications.

Some clubs and organizations, such as TRIO and Phi Theta Kappa, even offer scholarships. Mainly, the benefit of getting involved is that you get to know people.

Maybe this column will help students, faculty and staff at Forest Park understand some of the challenges and issues that people with disabilities face every day. We’re human beings who just want to get an education.