Getting a perspective on disability

John Balchak

Have you ever tried to travel uphill in a wheelchair? It’s not easy, as students found out at the National Disabled Students Union awareness event.

On Nov. 2, a presentation on the north side of Gorton quad offered the experience of disabled simulations such as being blindfolded and navigating with a cane or wearing ear covers that limit hearing.

Seated in a Colours Zephyr athletic style wheelchair, a City Times writer was lead around the northwest portion of campus including down the B building elevator and up the Russ Blvd. hill.

Student Alex Ibarra, uses a wheelchair on campus and was an escort for the course.

When asked about getting around City College, Ibarra said that “most of (the campus) is pretty good. The LRC is a little difficult to get to because there are big cracks in the street that could cause (a wheelchair) to tip.”

Ibarra also mentioned that the pavement is all uphill going to the gym where he likes to lift weights.

Coming up the sidewalk, the writer finds that gravity makes keeping the wheelchair pointed straight ahead arduous. A truck roars across the path into a parking lot and cracks in the concrete bring progress to a halt. The writer becomes frustrated and considers standing up, then realizes, in this world, it is not an option.

“We want to let people experience for a minute that being disabled is not easy,” Pamela Finkel, a counselor of disabled students, said. “October is Disabled Employment Awareness month and unemployment in the community can run as high as 73 percent.”

Joey Canales is president of the City College chapter of the NDSU. When asked about the conditions for disabled students at City College, he said that the “administration is helpful.”

“There are some (student) complaints but they are 99 percent accommodating,” he said. Canales’ suggestion for making the campus more disabled friendly would be to, “update wheelchair access.”

A person’s physical disability is most often perceived as something they are born with, but that is not always the case.

Jenn Larsen is a student who, over the last five years, has been gradually losing her sight to the genetic condition Retinitis Pigmentosa. Now legally blind, she is assisted by a black English Labordor guide dog named Tillman.

“I can see a little but my vision is cloudy and limited,” Larsen said. Her idea for assisting visually impaired students would be to make CC TVs available in classrooms. These closed-circuit video units have a camera and monitor that can magnify any document in real time.

Concerning the other life changes her condition has caused, Larsen said, “I was the driver all of the time, it was hard to lose that.”

Now she uses public transportation and occasionally rides a tandem bicycle. “I love the tandem. I never thought I could do it again.” she explained.