March 26-April 8, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 6
Back Issues
Someone else’s shoes
Fraser answers call
Research week showcases students’ work
Headlines @ U.Va.
Conference to examine where the arts belong
Ayers wins Bancroft Prize
Davis Parker’s Magnum Opus
Move over, Sigmund
Emily Couric’s political papers now part of U.Va. library collection
‘Telling Moments’ project aids high school Spanish teachers
Expert to discuss new findings on equity in higher education
Students, employees give back to community
Someone else’s shoes
Increasing awareness of disability is an element of a diverse University
Photo by Michael Bailey
“Temporarily able-bodied” is how one disabled person describes normal, healthy individuals, because disabilities can affect anyone at any stage of life.

By Anne Bromley

A U.Va. 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 life depends.

These 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.

Christopher 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 and employment for a variety of groups, including people with disabilities, minorities, women and others.

Specifically for people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act 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 participate fully in all aspects of society.

Included 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; muscular dystrophy; 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 requesting their own
accommodations, and institutions are required to make them as long as they are“ reasonable.”

The 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.

Several 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 inclusion and individual treatment.

With these goals in mind, Student Council and the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center sponsored a Disability Awareness Week in 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 the community.”

Linda Bunker, an education professor who describes herself as “mobility 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 many people 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 Program employed Angie Matney, who is blind, as a tutor. The student-athletes who worked with Matney received a lot more than higher test scores, according to program director Kathryn Jarvis. It was 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
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.

“At 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, which is relevant to any discipline these days, he said, from bioethics to literature. This 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 University community.

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
Robbie 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.

Dealing 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 communication.

• 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 Sign Language.

Disability etiquette

• 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 is acceptable.

• 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

Disability Resources

Requests for reasonable accommodation:

• Students, applicants and employees may notify their supervisor or
Brad Holland, ADA Coordinator, 924-7819 or

• Classified staff: contact Debbie Gausvik, assistant director for employee relations, 924-6263 or

• The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs Web site at, includes The Americans with Disabilities Act Interview Guide

• For parking accommodations: Parking and Transportation, 924-7231

• For physical accommodations: David Villiott, Facilities Management project manager, 982-5908

• For students with disabilities: Learning Needs and Evaluation Center
243-5180 or, TTY: (434) 243-5189

• A Faculty Guide to Accommodating Students with Disabilities

• The Committee on Access for Persons with Disabilities recommends and oversees projects relating to providing access to people with disabilities. Charles Tolbert, chairman , 924-7494 or




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