The Other Side of Disabilities

The Office for Students with Disabilities Newsletter
Division of Student Affairs

Volume I, Issue 1 Octerber 2000 Editor: James Walborn



We travel through our daily lives routinely giving and receiving small kindnesses without giving it a thought. Holding a door open for someone directly behind us, or allowing another vehicle to move into our traffic lane are normal responses to situations. However, uncertainty arises when extending such courtesies to someone who has a disability. Would assistance be perceived as placation, or, worse yet, pity? Rather than making an inaccurate prejudgement, the simplest answer is just to ask, “Would you like assistance?”

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the country. If someone is 18 to 45 years old they have a 20% chance of joining this group during their working life. The odds increase to 50% for those age 65 or older. The effects of the disabilities upon the men, women, and children are as diverse as the individuals, themselves, yet generalities and stereotypes abound. Raising awareness is one of our goals. We are the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD), located in Library Room 175 on the Boca Raton campus of FAU (561-297-3880) and in MOD I on the Davie campus of FAU (954) 236-1222. We hope that the following myths, should be enlightening.


Myth: Those with disabilities are brave.

Fact: Coping with a disability means lifestyle adjustments, with little to do with bravery.

Myth: Wheelchair use is confining, and its occupant is held hostage.

Fact: Like a car, a wheelchair is a personal assistive device which helps the person travel.

Myth: All hearing impaired people read lips.

Fact: The ability to lip read varies among individuals, and is an inexact science at best.

Myth: Blind people live in darkness.

Fact: 95% of people with visual impairments have some usable vision.

Myth: Those with psychological illness can never be normal.

Fact: Many psychological conditions are temporary, or controlled with medications.

Myth: People with disabilities live lives quite different than others.

Fact: People with disabilities go to school, work, get married, raise families, plan and dream just like everyone else.

Myth People with disabilities need help.

Fact: Not necessarily. Many are functionally independent, and are the givers of help. If you are in doubt of a situation, please ask, but don’t be surprised or offended if someone politely declines your offer.


Andy, an FAU student who survived cancer nine years ago, wishes to start a cancer support group. His doctors successfully removed a cancerous grade- four brain tumor the size of a jumbo egg. He talks to groups, and actively counsels others dealing with the emotional problems associated with cancer. “I should be dead right now, but God wasn’t ready for me yet,” he philosophizes. The risky surgery left him with diminishing vision, and having hypersensitive hearing, smell, and touch. “My thought processes are slowed down,” he notes. “Maybe if I was a healthy person I probably wouldn’t be so aware of those with disabilities,” he muses. Anyone wishing to talk with Andy may e mail him at

Did you know--that

Abraham Lincoln experienced a psychological disability known as manic- depression.


Some people have suggested that I should write about myself. Since this issue focuses on raising awareness, rather than talk about the OSD Coordinator, it seems more important to look at the person who happens to have a disability.

Although “visual impairment” implies a significant reduction of usable eyesight, loss of vision affects a hundred people in a hundred different ways. For me, this is a degenerative process beginning at birth. The rich oxygen needed to assist my immature lungs also caused the blood vessels in my eyes to burst. By age 65, I was told that I would be totally blind. It seems that I am a little ahead of schedule. Until 15 years ago I read everything available, an inch from my nose. Now my readings are either on cassette tapes, or scanned into electronic reading devices. Life, for me, is seen in shadows and fog, rather than colors and clarity. However, I still “watch” tv, and “see” friends.” My wife, of 24 years, is also visually impaired. We own a house, and do the cooking, cleaning, and most of the yard work. We shop with others, which isn’t too unusual either. What might be seen as novel is that we have no car payments, or related insurance, or gasoline expenses. The twice daily two-hour county bus trips between my West Palm Beach home and FAU are long, but inexpensive. As far as “anything unusual in the fridge” goes, recently I discovered some gallivanting grapes which had already taken on a raisin-like demure, and a container of unopened cottage cheese which resembled the Goodyear Blimp. What really would be disabling would be opening that container.


Many individuals may have disabilities which cannot be readily perceived by the general public. This can lead to misunderstandings.

June is a senior in her 30's who is maintaining a 3.6 gpa. She has both physical and psychological disabilities. She has Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and some related circulatory conditions which “came from many years of working as a computer athlete, and not any exercise,” she notes. June not only has nerve impingement in both wrists, but both her fingers and toes start to lose oxygen, and turn blue if not kept out of the cold.

June also has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which affects her ability to concentrate. “I distract easily and, at times, have a hard time focusing,” states June. She gains organization by making lists and writing down tasks. “I definitely have to have structure. That’s what I thrive on,” she concludes.

To keep from placing more strain on her wrists, June uses “Naturally Speaking,” a voice recognition software program that types what June speaks. She has also purchased a better mouse with a track ball and a special lap pad to relieve the amount of strain on her wrists when doing computer work .

June rarely discusses her disabilities with others, but acknowledges that most people have a fairly good concept of the impact of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. There is less public knowledge about ADD. June enjoys jazz and rollerblading, and really doesn’t have anything weird in the fridge.

For more information about the impact of ADD contact the Attention Deficit Disorder Information Network at (561) 737-2900.


We want to encourage comments and contributions from our readers. Please address any comments to Feel free to share this newsletter with friends and colleagues. Current and past issues are available at

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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