Someone else’s shoes
Increasing awareness of disability is
an element of a diverse University
by Michael Bailey
able-bodied” is how one disabled person describes
normal, healthy individuals, because disabilities can
affect anyone at any stage of life.
By Anne Bromley
doctoral student, who is blind, tutors student-athletes in
mathematics. A computer programmer in a wheelchair takes his
service dog to work with him in Alderman Library. An assistant
English professor, who is deaf, teaches American Sign Language
and American literature with an interpreter. A student with
diabetes brings to classes an unfamiliar machine that sounds
like a beeper, but is an automatic insulin pump on which her
and other faculty members, students and co-workers live daily
with the particular challenges of a disability, but within
the larger University community, many are only minimally aware
of the issues these individuals face.
Krentz, that English professor and director of U.Va.’s American
Sign Language program, recently suggested that adding disability
to the discussion on diversity may help people see
how diversity relates to them, because disability often hits
close to home, affecting anyone at any stage of life. He called
upon the University to further recognize that disability belongs
on the spectrum of our human diversity.
|A primer on disability status
The University’s nondiscrimination policy
spells out its commitment to equal opportunity in education
for a variety of groups, including people with disabilities,
minorities, women and others.
for people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation
of 1973 “prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability
in employment, housing, transportation, access to public
accommodations and services, education and telecommunications,” according
to U.Va.’s Equal Opportunity Programs brochure on
equal access. The regulations seek to remove barriers to
opportunities for people with disabilities so they may
fully in all aspects of
in the umbrella definition of disabilities that “substantially
limit one or more major life activities” are deafness
and hearing impairments; orthopedic, speech or visual
impairments; cancer; heart disease; multiple sclerosis;
cerebral palsy; and minimal brain dysfunctions. The category
also includes diabetes and epilepsy, attention deficit
disorder and learning disabilities like dyslexia, as
well as mental
illnesses and drug or alcohol addictions. Some conditions
are readily identifiable; others are not.
By law, people with disabilities, whether student,
employee or faculty member, are responsible for
accommodations, and institutions are required to make
them as long as they are“ reasonable.”
Office of Equal Opportunity Programs is responsible
for the University’s legal compliance with
the laws and works to ensure that discrimination
does not take place,
said Brad Holland, interim EOP director and ADA coordinator.
individuals echoed Krentz’ idea, and agreed that
while the University does an adequate job of providing physical
accommodations as required by law, more awareness is needed
of physical space needs and other disability issues, such as
and individual treatment.
With these goals in mind, Student Council and the Learning
Needs and Evaluation Center sponsored a Disability Awareness
January. Ironically, an ice storm canceled some activities
because of the difficulty in getting around. Gregory Propp,
a sign language
interpreter and LNEC’s coordinator of deaf services, who
moderated one panel, said, “There was a unanimous consensus
on the importance of increasing awareness of disability — in
both general and specific terms.”
During the discussion, fourth-year student Jimmy Sunday said, “When
you think of diversity, people automatically think skin color — and
that’s a big mistake, because there are so many different
shades of life and just different people, that you really need
to take all that into account. I don’t know of another
way to do that other than to raise awareness and to keep talking
about things. ... I think that’s the best way to improve
Linda Bunker, an education professor who describes herself
challenged” — she gets around in a motorized wheelchair — has
been involved for many years in University efforts to raise awareness
and improve the climate for diversity. A faculty member since
1973, she spoke about how her life experiences have made her
aware of the importance of including people with disabilities.
Bunker was part of a panel in “Different Voices, Common
Threads,” an event held by the Office of Student Affairs
this year that featured people talking about being members of
minority groups as well as members of the University community.
Two years ago, Bunker faced “more lessons to be learned,” she
said, when she lost her eyesight. As when she first began using
the wheelchair, she said some people see her guide dog and treat
her as if she can’t communicate or doesn’t exist.
Computer programmer Robbie Bingler had the opposite
experience after he got a service dog to help him
with tasks at
home and at work in Alderman Library. Bingler, who
uses a wheelchair,
said he started getting more attention from people.
Harpo, his golden Labrador retriever, is a big
hit with the
in the library who already know Robbie and now take
the dog for
extra walks during the day, as well as a social bridge
to interacting with strangers wherever Bingler goes.
Tutoring became a social bridge between a doctoral
student and student-athletes who needed help in mathematics.
For several years, the Academic Affairs-Athletics
Matney, who is blind, as a tutor. The student-athletes
with Matney received a lot more than higher test
scores, according to program director Kathryn Jarvis.
a “great experience” for
the students, the staff and Matney, who left U.Va. last year
when she changed careers to vocational rehabilitation.
|U.Va. student Vidya Kapadia
participates in the University’s
Disability Awareness Fair on March 16. Wearing a blindfold
and maneuvering with a cane to experience blindness,
she is assisted by Audrey Dannenberg of the Commonwealth’s
Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired, one
of the agencies that took part in the fair.
first the students had no idea how a blind math tutor
would be able to help them,” Jarvis said. Matney, blind from
birth, was skilled at talking them through problems, but they
had to learn to verbalize what they didn’t understand,
and after listening to her explain things, they had to transfer
the corrections to paper.
Once the students got to know her better, their
awareness expanded, and they would ask Matney — who was impressively independent,
Jarvis said — about how she carried out daily life tasks
often taken for granted, like matching clothes, grocery shopping
or preparing food.
Taking a broader academic view, Krentz talked
about the growing field of disability studies,
is relevant to any discipline
these days, he said, from bioethics to literature.
month the Modern Language Association held its
first national conference
on incorporating disability studies into the
humanities. Resolutions were passed to “acknowledge, and seek to understand, disability
as a fundamental form of human diversity,” and to “incorporate
disability into courses across the humanities curriculum.”
“We’re at a curious juncture right now,” Krentz said,
when we can “fix” — or at least improve — a
lot of things medically and technologically. But those fixes
have also made it possible for more individuals to live with
disabilities, or live longer. Both Propp and Holland talked about
the growing numbers of students with disabilities joining the
And yet, there is still a stigma attached to
having a disability.
Bunker reminded her audience that most of
them are “temporarily
able-bodied” and challenged them to
contribute their voices, attitudes and actions
to create a more culturally inclusive community.
Photographs by Michael Bailey
Bingler, a computer programmer at the Institute for
Advanced Technology in the Humanities in Alderman
Library, says his service dog, "Harpo," is
a social bridge with many people.
with disabilities at U.Va.:
Students with disabilities at U.Va.
• About a dozen new students who use wheelchairs have
enrolled at U.Va. in the past two years.
• About six students who are deaf use sign language
interpretation, cued speech or speech-to-text processes
as a primary mode of classroom
• Over the past five years, the number of students
who are hard of hearing has risen to 15 to 20.
• At least 10 students who are blind or visually impaired
have come to U.Va. in the last five years.
• Currently, approximately 15 to 20 students have chronic
medical conditions that affect their ability to participate
in the broad range of activities normally considered
part of student life.
• Hundreds of students with learning disabilities or
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are members
of the community.
• Four students at U.Va. in the past few years are “CODAS” — children
of deaf adults, whose first language was likely American
• Show respect: Speak directly to a person with
a disability rather than to a companion.
• Treat the person as an individual, not as a
disability. If you offer assistance, wait
until the offer is accepted,
then listen to or ask for instructions. Ask questions
if you are unsure what to do.
• Treat adults as adults. Address people by first
names only when extending the same familiarity
to all. When
introduced to a person with a disability, it is
appropriate to offer to shake hands. Offering
to shake left hands
• When meeting a person who is visually impaired,
always identify yourself and others who are
with you. Identify
the person to whom you are speaking if you are
in a group.
• Leaning on a person’s wheelchair is generally
considered inappropriate. The chair is part of the
personal body space of the person who uses it. When
speaking with a person who uses a wheelchair or crutches,
it is a courteous to place yourself at eye level.
• Listen attentively when talking with a person
who has difficulty speaking. Be patient,
and never pretend
to understand if you don’t. Ask short questions
that require short answers.
• Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use a
common expression such as “see you later” that
seems to relate to a disability. Relax and be yourself.
• Focus on ability, not disability.
— From the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs
for reasonable accommodation:
Students, applicants and employees may notify their
Brad Holland, ADA Coordinator, 924-7819 or email@example.com
• Classified staff: contact Debbie Gausvik, assistant
director for employee relations, 924-6263 or
• The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs Web
site at www.virginia.edu/eop/disability.html,
includes The Americans with Disabilities Act Interview Guide
parking accommodations: Parking and Transportation,
• For physical accommodations: David Villiott,
Facilities Management project manager, 982-5908
• For students with disabilities: Learning Needs
and Evaluation Center
243-5180 or LNEC@virginia.edu, TTY: (434) 243-5189
• A Faculty Guide to Accommodating Students with
• The Committee on Access for Persons with Disabilities
recommends and oversees projects relating
to providing access to people with disabilities.
chairman , 924-7494 or firstname.lastname@example.org