Disabled student voices concerns

By Debbie Kosinski

Convenience is something everyone can attest to enjoying.

Whether the convenience be having a vegetarian meal choice if you don’t eat meat, having sighted guides available if you are blind or having enough time to get to an unfamiliar office, it should be of no relative difference.

The Office of Services for Students with Disabilities is an NIU department that tries to provide disabled students with assistance in an attempt to make their busy lives on campus run a little smoother.

Linn Sorge, coordinator of Services for the Visually Impaired, said, “The office is a service if you want it, just like tutoring is there for able-bodied people on campus.”

When Sorge came to NIU 13 years ago, there was no accessible housing for anyone in a wheelchair on campus. “We were told by the people above us in the administration to blatantly discourage anybody in a wheelchair from coming to NlU because NIU wasn’t accessible enough yet,” she said.

The office has changed in the years with the changing philosophy and laws. Having disabled students on campus is not an abnormality anymore. As Sorge comments, “When you look at the difference in philosophy in the last 13 years, it’s incredible.”

The services provided for the disabled students are not seen as necessities to the disabled population on campus, where the possibility they may become too dependent on the office is likely. Yet, for the first time in the 13 years of the office’s existence, this fear has been voiced recently by one newcomer to campus, Cary Supalo, who does use certain office services. Supalo’s concern is not shared by the rest of the office users on campus, nor by the office itself.

“I’ll be blunt with you. If I have somebody that seems like they’re not being independent enough, then we will encourage them to be independent,” Sorge said. “If we’ve worked and worked with somebody on a route and they’re still really scared, because crossing Normal Road to many people is very scary, but we know they’re okay, then there comes a time when we’ll say, ‘You need to do it on your own.'”

Supalo has said he intends to join the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), an organization started in 1940, that firmly believes extreme independence is the “best way to learn the basic survival skills needed to live as a full-fledged human,” said NFB First Vice President of Illinois Cathy Randall.

Sorge remarked “one can be a ‘full-fledged human’ even if that person chooses to use something of a convenience.” Sorge further explained her point using an example of a service many people exercise. “When attempting to balance a checkbook, someone can either balance their own although it might take hours, or he can hire a competent person who can do it in 20 minutes to do it for him,” Sorge said. “This is a convenience and does not mean someone isn’t a ‘full-fledged human.'”

Sorge contributes Supalo’s trouble with the office to the influence of the NFB. “Cary had said to me that his life changed forever after he went to an NFB convention,” Sorge said. “But even after that, he sought services here.”

The NFB tends to take a militant approach to promoting its beliefs, Sorge said.

Third-year NIU student Doug Anzlovar, who uses the office’s services, said he feels that the NFB is “pushy, and may sometimes cause others to view blind people negatively” because they may associate all blind people with the NFB.

However, NFB members proudly speak of a philosophy they incorporate into everyday life. “The NFB lives on the philosophy of, ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you feed him for life,'” said Brian Johnson, chairman of the Advocacy Committee of the Chicago chapter of the NFB of Illinois. “It is harder work in the beginning, but if you can get across it, you always have the empowerment over your own life.”

Sorge explained that if students do not want to use the office’s services, then they never have to. Also a student is free to choose to what degree he or she will use the office’s services. “Whomever doesn’t like or doesn’t want to use the services, doesn’t need to use them,” Sorge said. “We are a service and not a requirement.”

There is an optional question on the admission application for NIU if a student has a handicap. If the student chooses not to answer this question, the office “doesn’t know they exist,” Sorge said.

Supalo has remarked that at times, he regrets ever identifying himself as a disabled student to the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities.