Coping with disablities takes on many forms for students, staff and faculty

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Wide ranging services available for students confronting disabilities

Roberta Althiser
The Broadside

Over the last few decades, many disabilities and disorders have come to light. As we struggle to understand these afflictions, Central Oregon Community College is working to help those suffering not only get a better handle on day-to-day life, but how to be successful as well.

Anne Walker has been Central Oregon Community College’s disability director for the last three years.

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“We do not change the requirements for disabled students to succeed,” she said, “We simply help by removing anything that will inhibit them from being able to do their work on their own.”

COCC is required by the American with Disabilities Act to equip itself to accommodate many forms of disabilities. Ramps, elevators, and automatic handicap doors make it easy for those students and staff who have a difficult time getting around without the help of a mechanical device or aide.

Walker also explained that other services are offered to help those with a handicap succeed.

Some of the services offered include the use of note-takers, alternate test formats such as bigger text, and adaptive technology like audio testing and computerized click-to-zoom tools.

But not all disabilities are physical.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires all learning institutions to have programs in place that makes it easier for students with various handicaps to learn the material they are required to know in order to graduate. Walker works with IDEA and local schools to ensure that all potential college scholars understand that there is help available to enable them make the next big step in life, and that their education doesn’t have to end with a high school diploma.

According to Walker, about 98% of COCC’s disabilities are reading and writing related, such as dyslexia and autism. Other learning issues that Walker helps students to cope with are Attention Deficit Disorder, Bi-polar Disorder and depression, as well as those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries.

“Not everyone wants to come out and admit there is something holding them back when it isn’t obvious,” Walker said.

She explains that in order to take full advantage of COCC’s disability services they will need to come and see her to get registered. By not speaking with her, she said, some students may be holding themselves back from opportunities that could help them to more efficiently complete their education and help them with day to day activities.

Before registering, it is important for students to understand that there are certain laws and privacy acts that prevent COCC from divulging their personal information – even to their own professors.

“The only thing that the teachers here are required to know is that they need additional help,” she said, “It’s up to the student whether or not they want to explain their situation.”

No matter what kind of inhibitions that each student may experience, physical or mental, there are many options available through COCC’s disability services. Students who experience any form of disability may contact Anne Walker at 541-383-7437 to help them get a head start on their personal road to success.

COCC professor overcomes challenges created by ADHD

Professor Victor Singingeagle is one of many who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, a form of Attention Deficit Disorder. He explains that some of the challenges he has had to overcome are related to memory retention, restlessness and being easily distracted. He was diagnosed early on in life, around age four or five, and remembers going to many doctors for help.

But don’t try to underestimate Singingeagle’s ability to live a normal lifestyle. Like so many others suffering from adult ADHD, he has learned how to manage his disorder.

“When I was little I used to drive the nuns bonkers,” he said, describing his early school years at St. Philomena Catholic School in Carson, CA. “If they had hair they would tear it out.”

The nuns suggested that he be prescribed medication to help him keep calm and focused, but his grandmother intervened and took him home with her after school instead. There he learned to do Native American bead work. Singingeagle said that when he was beading he was calm and it taught him how to manage his disorder in other aspects of his life as well.

“If I could focus with the beads I could focus with everything else,” said Singingeagle.

Other ways he reccommends to help manage ADHD include taking notes, setting reminders on your phone and relying on others—like he does with his wife—when it is needed.

“Write everything down and put them where you won’t lose them,” he advises.

Remembering where you put everything is difficult for those suffering from ADHD, so setting a routine is important.

According to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, there are other ways that help those afflicted as well. Consulting an ADHD coach to help set a routine is one way.

The ADDA also recommends joining an ADHD support group to share with others how to manage the difficulties they face in dealing with their daily lives. Here in Oregon there is only one meeting place, but the ADDA has set up an online support group, called a “Webinar.” Like seeking professional help, however, there is a fee of $45 for individual memberships, which is required to join in the sessions. You can receive more information on these services at www.add.org.

Sometimes, however, groups and therapy aren’t quite enough. Though the use of drugs for managing ADD-related disorders is controversial, sometimes it is preferred over trying to handle their disorder through counseling and willpower. Certain prescriptions are designed to keep an ADHD patient  calmer, allowing them to be more focused and making their lives more manageable. While this works for some, others complain that these drugs make them too lethargic, and prefer to try to manage their disorders themselves. Seeing a doctor or a therapist is the best way to determine if your level of
ADD would qualify the use of prescription drugs.

While there is no cure for ADHD or ADD, many like Singingeagle have found ways to overcome the challenges that are associated with the disorders and
become not only working members of society, but educated, successful, and happy.

Joe Merrill demonstrates his commitment to success

Joe Merrill was your average working man; he was married with three young children and had a good job and active hobbies, until one day in 1996, when his world changed.

An accident in a motorcycle race cost him the use of his legs and put him in a wheelchair.

Now, after three years as a student at Central Oregon Community College, he said he has found that he can advance his education and cope with his disability through use of COCC’s disability services and handicap amenities.

“At first I was a little intimidated,” Merrill said. “I just wondered how I would be accepted.”

It didn’t take long for him to realize that regardless of his handicap, he could turn his aspirations into an inspiration for others, he said.

A student at COCC, as well as Oregon State University-Cascades, Merrill is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Energy Engineering Management. He first became interested in it when, before his accident, he had radiant heat installed in the floors of the body shop he owned.

Along with his physical handicap, he also lives with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Because of the limitations ADHD presents itself with, Merrill finds it difficult sometimes to focus on his instructors and take notes at the same time.

“Having the note-taker is a really big deal for me,” said Merrill. “People don’t understand that when you have ADHD that it’s a disability and that you’re not stupid.”

Now, trying to move ahead in his education, he said that he utilizes many of COCC’s disability services. Along with note-takers that help him focus more on what his instructors are saying, he also uses the test center to avoid having to deal with constricting time limitations that prevent him from focusing on his exams.

Merrill said that COCC also makes the campus more accessible for him physically. He is able to drive himself to school, but access to upper campus would be nearly impossible if it weren’t for the handicap-accessible shuttles that get him up and down the daunting hills.

“They really bend over backwards to accommodate my situation,” he said.

Merrill was also happy to find that COCC’s art department had received a new handicap accessible pottery wheel. Other than making jewelry, making ceramics is one of the ways that he can relieve stress, he said.

As a full-time student with a physical handicap, as well as ADHD, Merrill believes he has shown that committed students can do anything they put their minds to, especially if they access the services available at COCC.

“Have a good attitude,” he said, “attitude is everything.”

Roberta Althiser can be reached Broadsidemail@cocc.edu

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