Student accuses office of creating dependency

By Debbie Kosinski

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series concerning the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities at NIU.

Does the NIU Office of Services for Students with Disabilities induce student dependency on the office by providing too many services, which could diminish a disabled student’s academic responsibilities?

This is the assumption of NIU freshman Cary Supalo, a blind student who subscribes to the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). This philosophy teaches blind people to do things for themselves as independently as possible and as soon as possible, said Brian Johnson, chairman of the Advocacy Committee of the Chicago chapter of the NFB of Illinois, who said he feels NIU’s office does not operate under this philosophy.

Supalo commented that the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities feels free to interfere too much by offering services, some of which he feels are unnecessary. Supalo says he believes there is an “implied policy” to facilitate the office’s services when going about everyday academic and social engagements.

Linn Sorge, coordinator of services for visually impaired persons replied that the office’s purpose is to prepare the students in becoming independent in every aspect of their college experience and any student not wishing to use the services provided by the office, need not ever.

In reference to exam-taking for a blind student, using the service may be unavoidable as it often is with math exams. “Any student can freely choose to take an exam in the classroom if the professor feels that it is appropriate,” Sorge said. “And if the student is making too much of a demand on what his professor feels is right, then his or her professor has a right to come over here (to the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities).”

Problems professors may have in regards to disabled students making their own accommodations for exam-taking, is that there is a chance for a suspicion of cheating, as well as a chance that other students will worry that the disabled student may get privileged treatment, said professor Peter Waterman, who teaches Supalo’s Math 210 class.

NIU Ombudsman Tim Griffin commented that he thinks it is “appropriate for the two entities (a professor and the office) to determine the most appropriate way for the disabled student to take an exam.”

Supalo came to NIU from Bolingbrook High School, where he was the only blind student and received no special services. “It was up to me to ask for help,” he said. “But if I didn’t, then I didn’t get any.”

Supalo said he believes that by having to fend for himself, he has developed a greater self-confidence and feels insulted by some of the services provided by the office and by the way other services are presented because these are things that he “can figure out by common sense.”

An example Supalo provided was the way the route sheets had been written. Supalo said that by putting such steps in the route guides as to indicate that there is a hill, as in the guide from the Neptune West main door to the Student Recreation Center main desk, is childlike as one can infer this easily. Supalo admitted, however, that this bother may seem trite to other people.

Sorge responded, “I have asked Cary that if he wishes not to use any services given by this office he should simply let us know. But he repeatedly says, ‘No, that’s not the case.’ I went on to ask him if I was correct, then, to hear that he never wants another route given to him by this office, and Cary replied that ‘No, that wasn’t true.'”

Sorge also said Supalo told her once that he felt the route sheets were not detailed enough, in that they don’t tell him where landmarks are or what would happen if he’d go too far somewhere and get lost.

NIU route sheets are so good, Sorge said, that professional mobility instructors refer people to NIU’s services to obtain the route sheets.

Other blind students on campus do not see any problems with the office, Sorge said.

Michele Martinez, an NIU sophomore who is legally blind, said, “NIU’s disability program is the best in the state, and that is because of Linn and the services (the office provides).”

The office also gives blind students the chance to use priority registration. This is so blind students can be sure to get all their books transcribed on time, Sorge said, because by going through regular registration there is a chance that a student will not get a needed text on time. Yet again, Sorge made it clear that it is always the student’s choice to use this service.

Students using the office grow and learn more each semester, Sorge said. “I don’t think I have anybody who’s dependent on it (the office’s services). They may use it as a convenience, but they’re not totally dependent on it.”

Fifth-year senior Terrence McCabe has found no problem with the office in all the time he has utilized its services. “I believe that I have had the most experience with the services than other blind students and although I have had disagreements with the office, I can always talk to them,” he commented. “I don’t like paperwork or rules, but the service is loose—there is always room to work with them.”

McCabe said he uses the services all the time. He takes some exams there, and he does take exams with the professor when the professor agrees. McCabe also said he uses the route sheets to help him learn how to get to a class and not as a substitute for learning. “Usually by the first day of class I am capable of finding my way on my own, not that it means I necessarily know the route by heart,” he remarked. “It does take a couple of days to actually know it.”

The office offers as wide a range of services as possible because of the wide range of people it works with, McCabe said. “They (the office) are not there to coddle us,” McCabe explained. “They’re there if you need them.”

Sorge noted, “The ideal goal (of the office), to be blunt, is to put ourselves out of business.”

Supalo says that his grievance with the office is not a personal vendetta. Rather, he would like to work with the office to see a change in the way the office presents its services to the disabled students. “It’s the way they run things,” Supalo explained.

Supalo said the office presents itself in a way that seems to give the impression that disabled students must use the office’s services and procedures.

Supalo has said that he is considering other alternatives of where to finish his academic career, and has expressed an interest in an NFB institution, Blind Incorporated, in Minneapolis, Minn.