Science, Math Mentors Link Disabled Teens

The following article appeared in the March 2, 1994 issue of The Skanner in Portland, Oregon.

Many teen-agers with disabilities think careers in science, engineering or math - fields that can require four years of study, often under physically demanding circumstances - are beyond their reach.

Not so, say organizers of a novel program at the University of Washington College of Engineering. To prove their point, they're engaged in a six-state (Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota) search for high school sophomores with disabilities who have a knack for numbers, neutrons and the like. Applications should be returned by March 10.

Now in its second year, the DO-IT, or Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology, program uses home computers and electronic mail to link talented high school students year-round who encounter similar obstacles before succeeding in their fields. If a student doesn't own a computer, the program loans one, along with a modem and other hardware including adaptive equipment.

Students selected to participate in the national Science Foundation-funded program also will spend about two weeks on the UW campus in Seattle next summer immersed in an array of activities planned to give them a feel for what turns people on careers in science, engineering or math. Meals, housing, sign language interpreters and other accommodations are provided.

"Most DO-IT students already have overcome barriers related to their disabilities in order to realize the success they have achieved in high school," said Sheryl Burgstahler, DO-IT director and an assistant director of computing and communications at UW. "But still, the route to a successful career can be long, and practical advice and encouragement all along the way can be helpful - especially from people who have overcome similar obstacles."

Program mentors include people such as Todd Heywood, a lecturer in computer science at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, who is hearing impaired. DO-IT participants can even reach by a computer the famed British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease and is confined to a wheelchair.

For more information or to request application materials in standard print, large print, Braille or audio tape, write DO-IT, University of Washington (JE-25), Seattle, WA 98195. The DO-IT voice phone number is (206) 685-DOIT (685-3648); and the electronic mail address is