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Shirley Lopez College Education for Disabled Adults

by Shirley Lopez

Legislation for disabled students is a lifeline of hope for older adults who find that they no longer can continue in their present profession because of a disability or impairment and want to return to college.

It is so easy to just sit back and collect disability checks after being involved in a isabling accident. After all, no one really wants to hire a person that is disabled for a position when they can hire an individual who is capable of doing the work without aid. This hard reality makes it hard if not impossible for people who once had a good profession and lost their ability to continue due to an illness or accident return to work. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act helps the disabled adult student to learn new skills with hard work and endurance if they need to go back to school.

Some years ago, after my accident leaving me legally blind, I knew I no longer could keep my profession as an accountant. This fact did not deter me from wanting to be a productive individual. But after much research and many inquiries, I discovered that entering college at my age seemed impossible, especially with my disability. Learning this did not stop me; it only made me more determined to return to college. We had in our small community at that time one college with a great English writing program. I had always wanted to write a book about my family, and was also interested in writing articles for the magazine industry. I thought that with the right education I would be able to break into the writing field and make a good income.

I found that I was very badly mistaken. Instead of all doors being open there were no doors open. At first, everybody patronized me, gave me their sympathy, and even laughed because of my desire to return to school. I did not give up nor did I let the disappointments keep me from trying to get entry. At last the head of the enrollment department gave in and told me that, if I could pass the SAT tests with at least a C to C+ that I may enter college and take two classes at a time. Remember back at that time the Americans with Disabilities Act was just becoming law and no set regulations concerning college for the disabled existed. My only resource at the time was the my state Commission for the Blind. I used whatever information they had and also asked administrators from the college to find out what it took to be admitted.

My first step was to attend the school for the blind and learn how to read and write in Braille. The next step was to go to Pilot Dog in Columbus, Ohio and work with a very well trained guide dog. I had graduated with very good grades from Ohio State when I was younger, but now too many years had passed and too much had happened to me along with aging, so Hope College was not about to give up an opening to someone who probably would get frustrated and quit after the first term. My job was to prove that I had the capability of attending and getting high grades. My next job was to assure the head of enrollment that I would not be a person expecting everyone to give in to my demands. To myself I needed to prove that I had not taken on more than I could handle.

After taking refresher courses at a local community college, I then applied for my SAT tests. The Commission for the Blind located in Kalamazoo, Michigan had a school for blind children that helped them take their SAT tests in able to help them attend college. I stayed one week at the center and I went daily over to the computer science room at the school for the blind. This was a very trying week and the months to come seemed very hard as well. Testing now over, my husband picked me up and I went home. I would have been a terrible wreck if my husband had not been by my side and would never have gotten through the process. He encouraged me to keep trying and assured me that it was not the end of the world if I did not pass the tests.

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