Injured student grateful for having four limbs

By Tara Snowden

Thousands of students walk to class, eat food and take showers each day without a second thought.

For freshman psychology major Mary Melendez, doing such tasks are more of a chore.

Melendez looked forward an easy semester at NIU all summer until an accident changed her plans.

One night while hanging out with friends, Melendez tried to sneak out of a second story window and fell hard on her wrist and ankle, causing both to shatter beneath her.

“My foot wasn’t attached to any bones in my leg, just by skin and muscle,” Melendez said. “I had to hold my foot or else it would dangle and cause immense amounts of pain. I definitely got caught and went to the emergency room.”

Later that night, as Melendez sat waiting for surgery. She knew life would not be the same.

“Being able to use both arms and legs is something you never think about being grateful for, but after all of this, I am so thankful that I will have full use of them,” Melendez said. “I hope other people understand that.”

Melendez now finds everyday tasks a bit more of a challenge.

“It’s a workout just going from my dorm to the bathroom,” Melendez said. “I couldn’t do my hair, I had trouble getting dressed. Then imagine trying to take a shower but you can’t get any water on your right arm or leg and can’t stand because it hurts your other leg too much. It was an almost impossible task.”

Melendez also struggled with the fact that other students on campus make it evident she is different.

“I’ve seen people’s eyes just follow me for minutes or sometimes it’s the quick stare then ignored look. Someone will stare for a second but then know that I noticed it and they quickly look away,” Melendez said. “But the truth is, I understand why they are looking, they are curious. It’s just uncomfortable for me because I feel like I’m constantly on stage.”

Melendez is not alone in her struggles. Numerous students suffer from some sort of disability that affects their everyday lifestyle, each dealing with it on different levels.

“I can’t honestly say what is the hardest difficulty that students with disabilities face on campus,” said Nancy Kasinski, director of the Center for Access-Ability Resources. “Each individual and each disability is very different.”

Kasinski and the Center for Access-Ability Resources provide assistance for students to ensure NIU’s academic programs and facilities accommodate those with disabilities.

“Our primary responsibility is to assist the university in providing equal access to classes and activities for students with disabilities,” Kasinski said.

Although the university is trying to find ways to make it easier for students with disabilities to get around campus, Melendez admits being in a wheelchair is not convenient in all areas.

“Cole Hall has no handicap doors and the [Holmes Student Center] doesn’t have those doors either,” Melendez said. “Getting through people is tough too because I don’t want to run into anyone. But when it’s crowded, I have nowhere else to move. I always feel like it’s a hassle to go places because a lot can go wrong very easily.”

Kasinski agrees that, although students with disabilities must overcome numerous obstacles, they still deal with many of the same problems other students do.

“I believe that students new to the university, just like students without disabilities, deal with most of the same issues,” Kasinski said. “[They’re] understanding the ‘lay of the land,’ how to study at the college level, time management and all the other adjustments one must make at the college level.”

Melendez agrees, but is grateful this is only a temporary disability. Through her experience, she has learned numerous life lessons.

“I have a completely different perception of people with disabilities now, and a much higher respect for what they have to deal with each day,” Melendez said. “I’m very lucky. I am only temporarily in a wheelchair, and these 6 weeks have been hard enough.”