DO-IT News March 2004

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Volume 12, Number 1

Director's Digressions

Sheryl Burgstahler

I am sorry to report to you that two of our DO-IT Ambassadors, Shawnna and Chris, recently passed away. They both promoted the DO-IT goal of full inclusion of people with disabilities in school and work and will be missed by all who knew them.

Picture of DO-IT Scholar Shawnna
DO-IT Ambassador, Shawnna

Shawnna attended the Phase I Summer Study in 1994. She worked at Columbia Industries in Kennewick, WA. Shawnna makes a powerful case for technology access in an early DO-IT video designed for science teachers. She says, "I have Muscular Dystrophy and I use large print books to see the print better. I can't write at all with my hands, so I use a computer to write my papers and communicate with other people." These contributions are included in the video Working Together: Science Teachers and Students with Disabilities at www.washington.edu/doit/Video/wt_sci.html. Through this presentation, her advice will continue to help science teachers for many years to come.

 

 

Photo portrait of DO-IT Ambassador Chris
DO-IT Ambassador, Chris

Chris passed away in his dorm room at the University of Washington on February 18, 2004. His heart simply gave out. This was his second quarter at the UW. DO-IT staff, Scholars, Ambassadors, Pals, and Mentors were all part of making his childhood dream of attending the University of Washington a reality. As Chris said in the DO-IT Snapshots publication, "My goals in life are to attend the School of Engineering at the University of Washington and become an aeronautical engineer for Boeing." He was well on his way. Besides being an enthusiastic Husky fan, Chris was always looking for ways to get involved in engineering. He took classes in CAD and designed an accessible Habitat for Humanity home.

 

National Disability Mentoring Day

Scott Bellman, DO-IT staff
Picture of Tressa and Conrad performing surgery on sheep heart.
Scholars Tressa and Conrad perform surgery on a sheep heart during Summer Study '03.

In October, several students with disabilities participated in National Disability Mentoring Day (NDMD), which is a national effort to promote the employment of students and job seekers with disabilities, commemorated each October in conjunction with National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It is hosted by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).

During the one-day event, students were matched with workplace mentors according to career interests, enabling mentees to learn more about what a job is like day-to-day and how to prepare for such a career.

Twelve students visited Microsoft™ Corporation to meet with programmers, software testers, technical recruiters, and managers. The Microsoft employees treated the students to lunch and gave them t-shirts and software.

Three students participated at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. They learned about marine biology and fisheries science and careers in these fields.

The Federal Aviation Administration provided mentors to two students in the areas of information technology and human resource management. Several students also participated in mentoring day at Alaska Airlines for a variety of projects.

At Medtronic Physio-Control, a company that promotes and markets medical devices, four students worked with mentors to learn about industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, software development, and food service management.

Here is what DO-IT Scholar Tressa had to share from her experience:

I had an awesome time at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I am looking for a career in marine mammal biology and was really excited to learn more about what I would be doing during the workday. I scrubbed rocks for two hours, which wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. Although, I did find out some information that will totally change my future plans.

To be a marine mammal biologist, the best colleges are pretty far away—Alaska, Southern California, Hawaii, and North Carolina, to name a few locations. During a conversation I had with one of the biologists working nearby, she agreed that the best colleges are far away, but the career options nearby are amazing. I was thrilled! I would be able to use my education here and get the dream job I want. Yah!

A job shadow is such a great opportunity because you can get answers to questions that you never thought to ask. Also, this experience can lead you to great connections and maybe even to your career.

AccessIT in San Diego

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

AccessIT, co-sponsored by DO-IT and the UW Center for Technology and Disability Studies, hosted a training meeting for staff from the ten regional Disability Business and Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs, see http://adata.org/national-network).

The meeting included presentations and lively discussions related to the accessible information technology support DBTACs provide in their regions. Terry Thompson and I represented DO-IT aspects of this collaboration; we gathered ideas for our AccessIT Knowledge Base at www.washington.edu/accessit/#main—FAQs, case studies, and Promising Practices—and learned more about DBTAC needs for technical assistance.

DO-IT Helps Other Projects

Many projects funded by the federal government corporations and private foundations are not fully accessible to potential participants who have disabilities. Their websites are not designed to be accessible to individuals who are blind and using text-to-speech systems, events are scheduled in inconvenient and even inaccessible locations, publications are not available in alternate formats, and they have not put in place procedures for efficiently responding to requests for accommodations by individuals with disabilities.

DO-IT's new publication, Equal Access: Designing Your Project to Be Accessible to All Participants, is designed to help projects make their information resources and activities accessible to participants with disabilities. You can find it at www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Programs/design.html. Note that within the document is a statement that grants permission to copy these materials for educational, non-commercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged. A single printed copy of this document will be mailed to you upon request.

The Value of DO-IT for Someone who DID-IT

Stuart, 1999 DO-IT Scholar
Picture of DO-IT Scholar Stuart
1999 SO-IT Scholar, Stuart

I was a 1999 DO-IT Scholar. I am a double amputee. I live on Vashon Island, WA. I am currently attending Seattle Central Community College. Next year, I am planning to attend the University of Washington to study business. My interests are computers, cars, and world issues.

In my junior year of high school, I was accepted into the DO-IT Scholars program. When I joined DO-IT, I did not have much understanding of computers or the Internet. From Summer Study 1999, I learned more about computers and, in turn, quickly became interested in them. I felt my perspective of everything changed as a result of this. I learned what opportunities were available for students with disabilities, and what kinds of questions I should ask—and whom I should ask—when applying to colleges. Now that I am applying to the UW, I am going to use many things that I learned at the DO-IT Summer Study program.

I was able to get a 2003 summer internship at the UW Access Technology Lab through DO-IT. I learned about all the kinds of adaptive technology that is available for students with disabilities and gained a better understanding of potential issues that students may encounter in their education, from a technological perspective.

DO-IT Profiles

DO-IT Mentor Profile

Picture of DO-IT Mentor Erich
DO-IT Mentor, Erich

by Erich Ho

I work as a volunteer at the UW Access Technology Lab. By profession, I am a system analyst. A system analyst is a person who designs software applications for specific uses. I have a mild case of Cerebral Palsy, which affects my speech and coordination.

I attended the University of Washington where I received my BA in Business Administration, with minors in Accounting and Information Systems. I interned at USWest™Communications (now known as Qwest™), where I designed a document locator program for the Corporate Tax Office.

Upon graduation, I worked as a software quality analyst at Intel™ Corporation a small company where they make CPUs and produce those cool Intel swirl logos that are on many computer cases. In this job, I designed and coded testing scripting to test our supply-chain application. I was promoted to team lead and was responsible for managing projects. After 4 years, I became a business system analyst, where I gathered user requirements and partnered with programmers to develop a technical solution for a corporate inventory application. I enjoyed this position because it allowed me to work directly with the users to determine their business needs and learn more about Intel's business.

After 6-1/2 years, I decided to leave Intel to move back closer to my family in Seattle. Since then, I have been looking for a job. In the meantime, I am taking some programming courses such as ASP™, C++™, and Java™ and volunteering at the Access Technology Lab.

I am 30 years old and single! My hobbies include reading, hanging out with friends, finance investing, and surfing the Net.

DO-IT Staff Profile

Picture of DO-IT Staff member Debra Zawada
DO-IT Staff member, Debra

by Debra Zawada

I have been working with DO-IT just a little over a month. I am excited to be working with such a talented and dynamic staff.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey, just west of Manhattan. During high school and the first years of college, I was a camp counselor for the Fresh Air Fund. The mission of the Fresh Air Fund, still to this day, is to provide summer experiences for urban kids outside of the city. I worked at Camp Hidden Valley, which was designed for children with disabilities. One of the unique aspects of this camp was to create the integration of able bodied kids and campers with physical disabilities in an accessible environment. The campers and other staff members were from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. I lived with people that were very different from me. This experience as a counselor was probably one of my most valuable to date. I still continue friendships that began at camp 30 years ago.

The majority of my professional history is as a special educator in the Seattle School District through a variety of positions: classroom teacher, transition coordinator, vocational counselor and consulting teacher, and over 20 years of hands-on experience assisting individuals with disabilities with reaching their goals. When I began as a transition coordinator, I only had my classroom experience. I knew how to break down and teach tasks and, on occasion, do crowd control. However, I had a lot to learn about supporting students transitioning to work or college. I owe a few of my students a great deal for showing me that there were many different ways to reach a goal. My way wasn't necessarily the only or the best way! These students were self-advocates before special educators borrowed the term. These students succeeded with their goals and I saw just how powerful a tool self-advocacy can be.

For the past several years, I have worked at Washington Research Institute on the Postsecondary Innovative Transition Technology Project (Post-ITT). Post-ITT consists of web-based resources and curriculum for students with disabilities planning on attending college. In this job, I learned more about transition issues and resources. We conducted staff training throughout Washington state. At these trainings, I came in contact with staff from a variety of districts—urban to rural and large to small. I was always excited to share our resources and eager to hear about the different challenges and successes of helping students reach their goals.

I am happy to be working with DO-IT and anticipate many learning opportunities in the months to come.

Tech Tips: Trends in Higher Education - The Scoop from EDUCAUSE

Terry Thompson, DO-IT staff

In early November, four DO-IT staff members traveled to Anaheim, California, to attend EDUCAUSE, the premier annual conference on technology in higher education. This event is always a great opportunity to sample the latest products from technology software and hardware vendors, attend sessions on creative ways that colleges are utilizing technology to improve teaching and learning, and to talk with all of these technology leaders about ensuring that cutting edge technologies are accessible to students and employees with disabilities. EDUCAUSE is always a huge conference, and 2003 was no exception. There were nearly 200 exhibitors and hundreds of general sessions. DO-IT co-hosted an exhibit with project EASI (Equal Access to Software and Information) and the Pacific ADA and IT Center.

As has become typical at EDUCAUSE, one of the most visible and talked about product lines was course management systems (CMS), often referred to as courseware. Courseware vendors, including Blackboard™, WebCT™, eCollege™, and others, develop products that provide a consistent web-based environment in which colleges can host their online courses. Colleges typically purchase a site license or subscription to one of these products, which means that many if not all of the courses taught at that college have a very similar online interface. This consistent look and feel is good, because students can focus their attention on the course content, rather than on trying to figure out how to navigate the course website.

All of the major courseware vendors have worked hard to improve their accessibility over recent years, but there are still features of all the programs that present accessibility problems to some students with disabilities. Most significant among these are chat rooms (most are inaccessible to screen readers and are challenging for slow typists) and online white boards (instructors' scribbles and drawings can't be read by screen readers).

Courseware packages can be rather expensive, and are sometimes challenging for colleges that want to customize them to better fit within their complex technological environments, where there are many distinct software applications that need to communicate with one another and share information. In response to these issues, several universities gave presentations on how they had developed their own in-house course management systems. These universities were encouraging other schools to join them in their efforts to further develop "open source" tools that are essentially free, and are typically more flexible and customizable then canned one-size-fits-all packages from commercial vendors.

Another trend at EDUCAUSE 2003 was wireless interactivity in the classroom. Several vendors exhibited classroom systems that utilize a variety of small handheld devices that allow students to respond in class to multiple choice and true/false questions. The results of their responses are beamed wirelessly to a server, where results are tabulated, projected to a screen and immediately discussed. Applications like these have the potential to make classroom discussions much more dynamic, and allow instructors to modify their teaching immediately if they discover that students aren't grasping a particular concept.

The best attended event at EDUCAUSE was a panel in which two leading university administrators and two outspoken activists from the entertainment industry discussed music and video piracy on college campuses, and the role that higher education entities should play, if any, in stopping this growing problem. More on this topic in the next issue of DO-IT NEWS.

The Thread - How Proud Are You?

Sheryl Burgstahler

A DO-IT Scholar recently posed the following question within our Internet discussion forum. I will share with you some of the responses so that you can get a flavor of the many rich conversations the DO-IT community has online.

How many of you are proud of your disability? Are you comfortable talking about it?

DO-IT Ambassador: I don't think I would consider myself proud of my disability. Being visually impaired does have its frustrations. For example, I have to rely on a visual assistance at filling out forms if they are not in a format that allows me to complete them using my PC. In addition, I sometimes run into issues with transportation to certain places. This is especially a problem if the transit doesn't run frequently or I have to cross busy intersections to get to where I am going. I do, however, enjoy talking about my disability. I like to share my work experiences with others and tell about the adaptive equipment I use. In addition, I like to give technical advice to other visually impaired computer users.

DO-IT Mentor: I've gotten quite conceited about mine, which presently comes off as pride. I won't raise my disability, but if others do, I'll talk about it, hoping to move the conversation from myself to disability in society, and then to what brought the questioner and me together in the first place.

DO-IT Mentor: While I don't consider myself proud of my disability (severe hearing impairment), I am also not defensive of it. I try to use my disability as a springboard to advocate for others with disabilities of all types. So, in short, proud no, but using it productively, yes, and very willing to talk about it.

DO-IT Ambassador: I agree with the people that have responded: I am not proud. I get to sit on the side or in the grandstands while all my buddies are out playing football or basketball. It also has downfalls, like not getting invited places because my chair can't fit in a car. But, frankly, I don't care who knows what accommodations I get. I freely talk to people about my disability when they ask.

DO-IT Ambassador: I think there is a big difference in being "proud" and being "comfortable" with it. I am comfortable with mine for I do have it and must do work-arounds for it. But, I don't know how one would be proud of it. It is just a fact of life.

DO-IT Mentor: I think I am very comfortable with being a person with disability and I AM proud of being a member of the disability community, a rich, varied and outstanding bunch of people. I have always been strangely comfortable with being noticeable and find that if I just smile at the folks who stare, most smile back. I just got a new and pretty spiffy wheelchair with front casters that sparkle (yes, a 45 year old with a sporty chair!) and I can't believe all the fun comments I have gotten in the last few days. They make most people smile. That is a nice thing!

So, I don't know if I am proud to be different but I am certainly proud to be ME, and being me is being a round, short-statured lady in a spiffy chair!

Oh, and I am very open about talking about my disability, my chair, why I use a chair, well, just about anything. Chatty, I am!

DO-IT Pal: Are you nuts or something? I don't believe anyone is proud of their disability. I have cerebral palsy and I am not proud of it. I'm proud of what I can do.

DO-IT Pal: I am proud of who I am and I have accomplished a lot in my life. So the disability doesn't matter, it's the heart!! I don't get asked much by many people about my disability but when they do, I am open and brutally honest. It's fun to read people's responses. Good topic!!

DO-IT Ambassador: I'm not sure I'd say I'm "proud" of my disability, but I do accept and embrace it as part of who I am. There are many experiences I've had throughout my lifetime, that have shaped my personality and identity, that I would not have had if I was not disabled. I do cringe whenever I hear talk of things like "preventing birth defects," because I don't think I would want to have been "prevented." (Sure, I would have still been born, but sans disability, I would not be the same person.) I don't think of my disability as something defective that needs to be fixed; to me it's just like a birthmark or odd-colored eyes... just something rare and different about me.

As far as my comfort talking about it, that depends on the attitude of the person I'm talking to. If the person is simply curious about it or how I get things done, then yeah, I can go on all day... lol! But if someone starts talking about how sad it is, or what could be done to "fix" me, I shut down the conversation pretty quickly.

DO-IT Mentor: That's an interesting question. I would not say I am proud of my disability, per se. I am proud of myself and my accomplishments. I know I had a steeper climb because of my vision loss. But I would love the world to learn that, with today's tools, I am really not all that different. Just as someone with correctable vision is equalized by glasses I am equalized by a talking computer, etc.

And yes, I am only uncomfortable talking about my disability when someone asking me questions asks really ignorant questions. I'm pretty tolerant, so they have to be really insensitive or invasive.

DO-IT Mentor: I am a brother, a son, a friend, a boss, a co-worker, a neighbor, a citizen, a Mariners fan, a Husky fan, a UW graduate and many other things, and... a person with a disAbility. I hope I conduct myself in such a manner that I can be proud of all of me.

And yes, right now, today, the Husky fan part of me is doin' pretty good!

If I were to rank the above list in importance in my life, in what I define myself by, well... being a person with a disAbility would not be in the top 5. I am not saying having arthritis doesn't play a role in my life, it certainly does. All I am saying is we get to choose what's important to us and the fact that I've had arthritis since age 2 (and all the related issues) just isn't it. I'd much rather be known as a good son, brother, friend, boss and co-worker, citizen, etc... I give the disAbility as much time and effort as it needs to allow me to excel in the other areas I listed—and that's it!

Yes, I can-and have-talked about my disAbility. I've done awareness trainings for everyone from corporate execs to grade schoolers.

DO-IT Mentor: First, I have to say what an AWESOME question! I sometimes wonder the same thing...

My answer: Heck yeah, I'm proud! I am me, and part of being me is having a disability. I won't lie; sometimes it is hard, but nothing to be ashamed of. I think disability should be viewed as a difference (neutral connotation), instead of as an abnormality (negative connotation).

I equate disability to race. (Try it... it's interesting!) Being a minority (person of color or person with disability/ies) is not always easy. You may have to deal with discrimination or even just being stereotyped. However, on the flipside, you are part of a community, a culture, that is unique and supportive. (Disability culture is small, but growing. Examples: deaf culture, disability athletics, disability comedy.) I think it will continue to grow as people with disabilities gain more access to resources.

Along with that point, being a member of a minority group can give you more empathy. You know what it is like to be stereotyped, and you can more easily understand others' difficulties. You can share what you know to better society.

Some thoughts about oppression: historically, people of color have been considered subhuman, right? Well, everyone thinking something bad about you can lead to you feeling bad about yourself. Society's values and perceptions will shape your perception of yourself. For people of color, societal values can lead to internalized racism. For people with disabilities, they can lead to internalized ablism. People have disabilities, not "suffer" from them. (I'm not saying that having [a] disability/ies is easy or not hard sometimes.) People, however, DO suffer from ablism... all people, with or without disabilities. Ablism fosters thinking that eventually leads to denial of access of resources.

Thoughts? Thanks!

DO-IT Pal: I don't know if I'd necessarily say I'm proud of my CP, though it does bring me some advantage which I make sure to milk to the fullest (preferred seating locations for concerts-I've seen Ricky Martin and Bon Jovi from the front row), the fact that it got my favorite celebrity to reply to my letter, the fact that I can roll into any grocery store and get the first employee I see and nicely smile at to be my gopher and get me everything I need within 5-10 minutes, the fact that when I'm sans wheelchair I can by-pass most any line, the fact that my scooter goes faster and doesn't get tired as fast as my friends when we're walking somewhere, discounts at some theme parks, discounts on Broadway tickets, and invitations to some really cool Disability-exclusive events (which often come with free stuff, I love free stuff). So yes, I'm proud that I can get all that with a little painless spaz moment here and there. I'm pretty open when it comes to talking about my disability.

DO-IT Scholar: You'll be surprised how many people are proud of their disabilities regardless the obstacles they face with it.

DO-IT Mentor: I think I'll play a little devil's advocate here. I am not sure I understand what it means to be proud of one's disability(ies). I am definitely not ashamed that my eyes don't work so hot... but I can't say I'm proud that they don't... perhaps you mean you are proud of yourself as a person with a disability. Can you explain?

Once when I was part of a diversity panel, I tried to say what I thought the differences were between other minorities and people with disabilities:

  • In the case of people of color, etc., the differences people perceive between us is pretty much imaginary. A prejudiced person thinks a woman is not as smart as a man. In the case of disability, the differences are often actual. The problem is what the prejudiced person thinks that means. I can't see so well... the important thing is does that present an insurmountable barrier to self-determination and achievement? The prejudiced or at least ill-informed person may say "yes." I know that's not true.
  • Disability is one minority everyone is eligible to join and probably will in one way or another. People don't just change races, and few change genders, etc.
  • Disability is, in my opinion, a matter of mechanics. I'm missing a bunch of light receptors in my retinas. The challenge is to find mechanics that make them unnecessary. I have done that and then some.

The point I'm making is, I guess, that pride is less of the issue than confidence and resourcefulness. I am not proud of defective eyes, but I am confident that they don't stop me from doing what I want... for the most part.

DO-IT Mentor: Nice answer, I struggled to find one myself... wrote, deleted, wrote...

To me the disAbility is very specific physical (could be mental for others) condition that creates a series of functional limitations. That (arthritis) is to me, not something to be proud of. It's not that I am not proud of it as much as I don't think a "very specific physical (could be mental for others) condition that creates a series of functional limitations" is something one can or cannot be proud of. How I react to that, how I deal with it and how I deal with society's perceptions (and resulting actions)-that's what I can or cannot be proud of.

Here's an analogy. Computers. People spend way too much time talking about whether or not computers are evil and bad for society. I say they're neither-their value is neutral, it's how people use computers that defines their value.

As far as the race/disAbility issue, I think the answer needs to be context specific. 99% of the time people ask the question it's to answer the question, or in relation to the issue of, "Ways in which we keep getting hosed by those with power"—or something to that effect. In this context I believe there is no real difference. The problem both groups face is that others look at us and make false judgments about any number of things (knowledge, skill, abilities, value, etc.). The judgments are usually false because they exaggerate or inaccurately judge what effect our race/disAbility, etc. have on reality.

DO-IT Mentor: I think everyone's definition of pride is unique, as some people identify themselves as being a part of the Deaf community.

The Deaf community functions in many ways like other minority groups. But unlike other minority groups, which are defined by racial or ethnic boundaries, the American Deaf Community is a linguistic minority group.

Their language is American Sign Language (ASL). They often celebrate and cherish their deafness because it affords them the unique privilege of sharing a common history and language.

DO-IT Pal: I agree with the people who have posted on the doitchat list. I don't see that having a disability (dyslexia) is something to be proud of, but at the same time, it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a fact of life. I am not proud that I have blue eyes, I just do. As for the second part of your question, yes, I am comfortable talking about my disability. It is easier to be proactive than to try to explain things when I need something right now or have people speculating about why I carry a laptop around at school. It is a fact of life, and I address it as one.

DO-IT Mentor: Thanks, that clarifies things. It has always struck me that with certain exceptions of course, when people who are deaf and ASL literate are together, they are not really "disabled." That probably says something about what actually does the disabling... the environment, the external.

I can't say that about being with other blind people... although I may value them and many aspects of our common experience, we are just as disabled together as apart.

However, on the Internet I feel I can relate to your experience. When I am online, I am on the proverbial level playing field.

Do others have observations on these issues?

DO-IT Ambassador: I agree the Internet can level the playing field, provided people with disabilities have access to computers and the Internet. It has been my experience that it depends on your own preferences, comfort level with yourself and others, and, to some degree, the actual nature and severity of disabilities one has. (In many ways, this does not matter, but there can be misunderstandings if health issues are not disclosed.) It also assumes some degree of understanding of Internet etiquette, which even the general population can struggle with.

DO-IT Mentor: You make a good point. The Internet does level the playing field to a certain extent, but then other issues come into play.

Some people are not able to express themselves very well in written words, but can do so vocally (sometimes it's just grammar, other times it can be their comfort with writing/typing). We can perceive people differently based upon how well they are able to communicate... I know that on a message board I frequently use there are several people who write such confusing posts that I find myself skipping their posts. I feel a bit of guilt for not taking into account what they've added, but I just don't have the time to decipher their messages! I am conscious of this bias, though, so I won't let myself judge him based on this, I just try to avoid the conversations that he posts a lot in. ;) A certain amount of slang is fine (I use it myself) but when a message is riddled with horrible punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes it can make the message illegible. In a casual environment one isn't expected to write a picture-perfect document, but it does help to express yourself when you use basic grammar rules.

Of course this type of issue is present w/out the Internet, people who can't communicate well in person will have the same effect on you (making you not want to talk to them). I have a friend who can express himself very well vocally, but just can't write (and he knows it and tries to avoid those type of situations).

DO-IT Ambassador: I don't personally see my disability in and of itself as something to be either proud or ashamed of. It's just the way things are. In terms of the ways I've worked to adapt, and overcome it as a major impediment to success, I'm very proud of that. As far being comfortable talking about it, absolutely.

DO-IT Pal: Interesting points... I think the problem with creating one single community is the broadness of the definition of disability and the differences in experience among different types of people with disabilities. For example, when it comes to accommodating a visual impairment, I am as ignorant as your average able-bodied person. The last thing I think about when drafting documents is that maybe someone somewhere can't read them very well because visual impairment is not a part of my own experience (okay I'm mildly nearsighted and have glasses but that's not considered to be a visual impairment under the ADA). I also can't comprehend why my friend with a learning disability has trouble with things that to me are very simple...like reading a paragraph that's not been double spaced.

I didn't really consider myself to be a PWD until I started working at a summer camp for kids with disabilities. I saw that I could use that factor to my advantage and it really helped me to get the kids to comply with whatever I told them to do and also to leverage it so that they have a positive role model who they can identify with. I didn't see myself as a PWD before because I went to a school where many kids had learning difficulties as well as the more apparent physical disability, which kind of gave 12-year-old me the false assumption that most PWD were like my "dumb" classmates and not like me. So I really didn't want to be associated w/ having a disability because I had that negative connotation attached to it and I was a person of ability not to be confused with "those other people."

I spent the past summer interning at Booz Allen Hamilton (great place to work), and I was also a member of their Emerging Leaders Class of 2003 which is a leadership development/internship program for students with disabilities. It was great to meet other PWDs who are just like me. We instantly bonded as soon as we met at the conference and literally were inseparable all 3 days we were together. Meeting Andy Imparato and John Hockenberry was also great, both men are huge inspirations because they have made amazing careers for themselves and create both actively and passively more opportunities for others like them to follow in their footsteps. Check out Emerging-leaders.com-it's great!

So I think community-building needs to have pride as its foundation. To form a truly solid movement like those formed by racial minorities, PWD need to band together because we realize the similarities between us and not stress the differences.

DO-IT Scholar: I'm also not proud of my disability (cerebral palsy), I love being able to do what I can do on my own. I know that God made me who I am for a reason, that he has plans for me in this world, and that he will use me where he wants!

DO-IT Scholar: I don't know if I'm necessarily proud of my disabilities vision / physical / seizures. I mean I just have them and having them has shaped my personality and my life in general. I kind of like having disabilities because I get to use some cool adaptive technology. In the case of taking the pill to make my disabilities go away, I don't think I would take it because taking my disabilities away from me might make me less me and less unique. I feel I was given these disabilities for some reason or another-maybe to help someone down the road or something. All I know is that having these disabilities has shaped my life and made me friends that I wouldn't have made without them.

DO-IT Scholar: This is a great question! I have to say that I do feel comfortable about my disability because I am a human being like everyone else. I am hard of hearing. I have 80% hearing loss in both ears. The only time it is hard for me to talk about my disability is when I meet people for the first time because they would ask, "What's that in your ears?" I'll get quiet and not say much. Whenever I wear my hair down, no one notices. But when I have it in a bun or ponytail, some people ask what's that? It pushes my buttons sometimes. But, it always seems that they have to know. What I really hate is when little kids will stare at my ears and touch them and question me. Sometimes I will tell them and sometimes I don't. Most of the time I'm open minded with them. It's just the age group that can be a pain.

DO-IT Mentor: As a spina bifida patient (birth defect in the lower spine) of 77 years, I have been reading your comments on the question, "Am I proud of being disabled?" No I am not. I am proud of what little I have accomplished in my life. Your comments have helped me come out of my cave. I have some strong thoughts on the question. Maybe I have been in denial all these years.

DO-IT Mentor: Seems to me the experience of disability and how it is regarded has changed a great deal in recent years. That alone is an adjustment to be proud of. A related question... What accomplishments are you proudest of and why? How did your disability play a role? (For example, change your life plan or make reaching goals more challenging or rewarding?)

DO-IT Ambassador: Hi! Well, I'm proud to be me! I've always wanted to make a difference in the world, and I think my disability gives me the ABILITY to make a difference in people's lives. I'm always very comfortable talking about it and I think it shows to the people I am telling.

DO-IT Ambassador: I wouldn't say I'm proud of my disability, after all, it's a royal pain sometimes and can make for embarrassing situations. But it's also a part of me like the color of my eyes. It would be silly to be ashamed of it and even sillier to be embarrassed to talk about it since in my case it is so visible.

DO-IT Ambassador: I am definitely not "proud" of my disability, I don't know how anyone could say that. Although people like myself are used to their disability and have accepted it as part of them, I am sure they would rather be normal-I certainly would rather be. I am not ashamed of it either, but I don't flaunt it-that would be ridiculous. Disabilities are something we would rather not have given a choice.

DO-IT Ambassador: I don't know if there is any such thing as pride of disabilities. All we can do is accept it as part of who we are. We don't necessarily have to like it, but we do have to accept it in order to live with it effectively. My favorite commercial is for the Ronald McDonald house, and in it, they have a little girl, nine, ten, or eleven years old, talking about how she lost one of her legs to bone cancer. She has an artificial leg, and at the end of the commercial, she says, "So my leg has rotated around and backwards. So what? It's still me." I think that demonstrates the point very clearly.

Humble yourself and say, "I'm not perfect, but I'll be okay." Your disabilities are part of what makes you YOU. Take it from there.

DO-IT Mentor: I'm not proud of my disability per se, but I'm proud of what I have overcome despite my disability. I'm also proud of everything that makes me unique including my disability. I actually made a t-shirt a few months ago that says "Abnormal and proud of it" on the front and "Never confuse me with normal" on the back. I view everyone as abnormal. Everyone has their own abilities and I just have different abilities than others. My cerebral palsy is just something that makes me stand out (or sit out in my case).

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More About DO-IT

DO-IT News is published at the University of Washington with input from DO-IT staff, Pals, Scholars, Ambassadors, and Mentors. DO-IT is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the State of Washington.

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

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Your gift is tax deductible as specified in IRS regulations. Pursuant to RCW 19.09, the University of Washington is registered as a charitable organization with the Secretary of State, state of Washington. For more information call the Office of the Secretary of State, 1-800-322-4483.

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