Charlotte Raby

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Disabled Student Leads Advocacy

by Charlotte Raby, Staff Writer
12/93, CWRU Obwerver


When Wendy Mills was growing up in the United Kingdom, no one thought she was very intelligent. She dind't
fit in with the other children in her family and didn't do well in school. Her problems culminated at the age
of 15, when she dropped out of school.

No one knew that Wendy's difficulties stemmed from her near-deafness. AFter working various low-paying jobs,
a job-placement test indicated that she possessed very high intelligence.

She immediately enrolled in college and earned her bachelor's degrees in geography and economics and is now
studying for her Ph.D. in anthropology, focusing on disabilities studies.

Wendy's story is familiar to many people - not just in the United Kingdom, but all over the world. Society didn't
believe Wendy was capable because she is hard of hearing. She is deaf inonear, and has slight hearing in the other.
That's why Wendy didn't fit in with her siblings, and didn't do well in school.

In post-war Europe, testing for hidden disabilities was rare. By the time Wendy's hearing disability was discovered,
she had already dveloped a low self-esteem; she believed she was what society thought of her. It was very difficult
for her to change her own perceptions about herself, and she discovered that changing other people's perceptions
was even more difficult.

No that disabled individuls have gained legal access to society's offerings, they still must overcome society's
attitudes and general lack of awareness and acceptance. That is why Mills as counded The Able Society, a support
group for disable students at CWRU, and is the national organizer of Disabled and Proud STudents of America (DPSA).

One of The Able Society's goals is to help CWRU's disabseld students obtain the access sthat they need to be successful.

"What people don't realize, is that access doesn't just mean physical acess to buildings," Mills said. "There is
access to what was said in class, to reading...to copy machines. This is hidden access."

Mills is working with the University to help fund acess projects on campus. The Board of Trustees will decide at
their next meeting whether approximately $250,000 will be used to provide access to Mather Memorial and Eldred Theater.

The boald of the Able Society and DPSA is to help change attitudes. "We want to be seen as a resourece, instead of
having what we can't do be the focus. Disable students are always underestimated in higher education, but our
diversity is an asset.

"We also want to 'demedicalize' disabilities, and chagen it to a study of individuals," Mills continued. "Academics
tend to think of disablilites in medical terms.Since 99% of being disabled is living with it, we want teachers to
address it that way instead of clinically."

The DPSA operates a national network based on the Cleveland Freenet. "Our aim is to promote interaction between
student leaders to better facilitate discussion between disabled student groups and schools of higher education,"
Mills said. It's main goald is to "improve the quality of life for all people, through engagement and discussion
with and about people with disabilities.

Mills also communicates electronically with students on campus as part of her rold through The Able Society, offering
support and and helping them to resolve issues.

"The University is good about dealing with us as a group," she said.

Mills believes in working with the University instead of against it to resolve all issues before they become conflicts.

"[Conflicts] can be crippling to everyone. They are very physically and socially demanding," she said.





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