The Other Side of Disabilities

The Office for Students with Disabilities Newsletter
Division of Student Affairs

Volume VI, Issue 2 May 2005 Editor: James Walborn



On March 22, 2005 the Office of Diversity Services and the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, Office of Student Affairs, on the Jupiter Campus hosted Alfred Souma, who presented “Accommodating Students with Psychiatric Disabilities in the Classroom.” A Disability Support Services Counselor with the Seattle Central Community College, Souma was the 2002 recipient of the AHEAD Professional Recognition Award and has given presentations across the nation. I had the pleasure of attending his presentation and talking with Mr. Souma afterwards. The following information was taken from the personal interview, presentation discussion, and the literature which he distributed.


"Mental illness" refers to the collection of all diagnosable mental disorders causing severe disturbances in thinking, feeling, relating, and/or functional behaviors. Mental illness is rarely apparent to others, yet can result in a substantially diminished capacity to cope with daily life demands and affects almost one out of every five Americans (19%).
Students with mental illness may experience symptoms that interfere with their educational goals and that create a "psychiatric disability" including:

  • Heightened anxieties, fears, or suspicions

  • Marked personality change

  • Confused or disorganized thinking

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Extreme highs and/or lows in mood

  • Denial of obvious problems

  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt

Individuals may also have problems with maintaining stamina, screening out environmental stimuli, difficulty understanding or remembering verbal directions, and prioritizing tasks.
The side effects of medications may also create problems with concentration, drowsiness, fatigue, dry mouth and thirst, blurred vision, hand tremors, slowed response time, and difficulty initiating interpersonal contact.
“Often students tell me that their first choice is to not take the medication, but I never suggest that. However, the side effects can be so insidious and so powerful that they may seem worse than the original psychiatric disorder,” notes Souma.

“I encourage my students to talk to the professor privately during office hours and to reveal as much information as necessary to help the professor understand,” Souma states. “I believe that if the professor understands what the unique needs are of a particular student, from that relationship will emerge the direction to take in the class.”
As accommodations, a student may require preferential seating near the door, tape recorded lectures, notetaker, and/or extended time on exams (due to an inability to concentrate). A professor might:

  • * Address a variety of learning styles.

  • Incorporate experiential learning activities.

  • Substitute assignments in specific circumstances.

  • Set behavioral expectations for all students.

  • Provide private feedback on academic performance.

  • Respect student’s right to confidentiality.


Lynn Gil is the new OSD Assistant Director. In her first week, she has already participated at Late Night Breakfast.


Students can have their volunteer hours permanently recorded on their official transcripts by registering these hours with the Volunteer Center. During the 2004-2005 academic year the 352 OSD volunteers saved FAU $211,584
Thank you, everyone.


On April 27th the OSD held a banquet to thank all of those who have volunteered for our office in the past year. Many of these are notetakers, the classmates of students who, because of their disabilities, cannot take their own notes. Others volunteered as tutors and scribes, or performed other valuable services for the OSD. The Mexicana theme came complete with a band, Mariachi Voces de America, pinatas and cacti (hand-made by the staff), great cuisine (from Chartwells), free gifts for the notetakers, and door prizes. The event was organized by OSD Coordinator of Notetaker Services, Michelle Shaw, and Graduate Assistants, Ivelyn Bower and Herrick Henriquez. The invited guests included both volunteers and those students who might consider volunteering in the future. The funding for this event was provided by the SGA.
Cleveland Peoples graduated from FAU this May with his Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a 3.7 GPA. He plans on pursuing his Doctorate in this field from FIU.
“I have severe depression, which is a disability that people don’t see,” Cleveland explains. His philosophy: “I believe that it’s important to achieve your goal and then set another one. When you do that you feel alive.”
“If it were not for the OSD Assistive Technology Lab I wouldn’t be comfortable with the computer,” reflects Cleveland. “At first I was intimidated by this wonderful machine that has so much power. But, I knew that this tool was necessary as part of my education and future career.”
Any advice for the faculty and staff? “Many people have disabilities but they excel in other areas of their lives. Some might not be able to run a mile or climb mountains, but I want people to understand – Don’t be fooled by the wheelchair, by the cane, by a passive nature. We’re not waiting for a handout. We want to achieve through merit, not sympathy.”
Anything unusual in the fridge? “Leftover roast beef and maybe a salad that’s turned brown. Other than that it’s empty. The refrigerator is starving more than I am.”


Wade Berstler is an older, non-traditional student who graduated this May with his BA in History. Twenty years ago he was involved in a motorcycle accident which resulted in the amputation of his left leg and the insertion of rods and plates in his remaining limbs. In spite of this he had to pull his life together and return to work while raising his son as a single parent.
Upon entering the University of Florida, his son convinced Wade that he, too, should return to college. While it took Wade a few semesters of community college to get into the academic groove, along the way Wade discovered a love of history and he now holds a 3.85 GPA.
Last year Wade won the FAU Saul Edelman Memorial Award for “Excellence in History” for in-coming seniors and he is a member of Phi Alpha Theta and hopes to eventually earn a PhD. Wade wishes to share his knowledge. “I feel that I can articulate myself in a way to make it interesting for students half my age. I have invested so much time and effort into an education I feel remiss by not sharing what I know.”
About his disability: “Since I don’t have any range of motion in my knee, I sit in the front row. I’m a big guy, over 6'4", well, on one side,” ‘amputee humor,’ Wade explains. His disability “can be physically painful, mentally exhausting, and debilitating as far as what you are able to accomplish.”
Besides being an active coach for youth sports in his community, he was a notetaker for an FAU student with a learning disability, and a tutor for the Athletic Department. “I held free tutoring for my fellow students for exams, helping other people out. Isn’t that the way it is, to make other people smarter, too?”
Anything unusual in the fridge? “A lot of soda. No one else in the house drinks it.”


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This newsletter is available in alternate format upon request from the Office for Students with Disabilities. Boca: SU 133; phone 561.297.3880, TTY 561.297.0358. Davie: MD I, Room 104; phone 954.236.1222, TTY 954.236.1146. Jupiter: SR 117; phone 561.799.8585, TTY 561.799.8565. Treasure Coast: JU 312; phone 772.873.3441.

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