Program offers help to handicapped students

By Ginger Riehle

Cooking and reading sound like simple tasks to NIU students, but many handicapped students need help, which they can receive through NIU’s Services for Handicapped Students.

“Students can go around in a wheelchair, as a game, knowing they can get up or they can pretend to be blind, knowing they can open their eyes, but they can never know what it’s really like,” Janine Stroemer, a reader for handicapped students said.

Stroemer is an employee for Services for Handicapped Students. She reads classroom material onto tapes for visually impaired students. “Right now I’m reading a lot of material for research papers,” she said.

She also reads entire text books and does independent reading. “If a student comes to me and says, ‘I want to read this book,’ then I will read it, and the student pays me.”

Stroemer said there are four to six regular readers, but there are many volunteers. She said they also guide visually impaired students to buy books or find books for research.

She said when she saw the job listed at the Job Location Office, she knew she wanted to do it. She said she is very people-oriented.

“Everybody likes everybody who works here,” she said. “You feel good about working for students who work hard.” Stroemer said people don’t like to work for people who aren’t going to make it. “These students can make it,” she said.

Linn Sorge, coordinator for Services for Handicapped Students, said the program has come a long way. “We hope it is good, but there’s always room to grow,” she said.

Sorge, who is blind, said they started out in a hole-in-the-wall office, with one desk for two people and no door. They now have an office, each person has a desk, four testing and reading rooms and a small training lab.

They are allotted a $36,000 budget from the general revenue fund, but Sorge said they receive help from student groups which have fund raisers for them. She said they use the money to buy equipment.

Some of the equipment includes braille writers, talking calculators, and cassette and reel to reel 4-track tape recorders. They also have computers for the visually impaired, which speak and print larger letters.

Their latest program is a cooking program, in which they teach visually impaired students to cook. “I know that sounds funny to say a cooking program, but most of these students have never cooked,” Sorge said. She said their parents often were afraid they would burn themselves, and most weren’t allowed in home economics classes. “We don’t want to burn ourselves either,” she said, “that’s why we started this program.”

“We try to work with attitudes and misconceptions,” Sorge said. “Able bodied people and disabled can work together.”

Sue Reinhardt, coordinator for Services for Handicapped Students, said they have an orientation for handicapped students. Blind students are lead on routes from class to home. They are also given the route in braille. It is a system of learning landmarks, she said.