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Out in the cold

While at NIU, students with physical disabilities face
daunting obstacles in their quest for their degrees.
They can take nothing for granted, and expect only a
level playing field. Yet, those wishes may now be
endangered.

BY MARKOS MOULITSAS

ASSOCIATE EDITOR

_______________________________________________

James Wilson, senior meteorology major, is unlike most NIU
students.

For one, he cannot simply sit in front of computer like his
peers and casually hash out school work. Wilson suffers from
congenital cataracts and must use a pair of telescopic
devices to see, one for short distances, the other for
long-distance viewing.

Neither are useful for viewing a computer screen.

Therefore, when Wilson first came to NIU, he asked the
university for either a large-screen monitor or software to
make on-screen fonts larger.

Yet, even though he was assured repeatedly that those
resources existed, it was 14 months before he finally saw
the large screen monitor.

"It has caused me to fall behind my peers. I'm at the wrong
level that I should be, even though I feel that I'm one of
the more inclined people here," he said.

Yet, he says the delay was not for his lack of trying. He
said his pleas for help were ignored by the computer systems
manager at Davis Hall, the geography department chair and by
the very organization that exists to help people like him --
the Center for Accessibility Resources.

"They're supposed to be advocates, and get me the equipment
that I need, but they've failed at their job many times," he
said.

Wilson, who has compiled a 25-page document detailing his
grievances against NIU, is not the only student who has
expressed dismay at the status of the accessibility center.
Special education senior, center employee and visually
impaired student Doug Anzlovar said the center has declined
from a strong advocacy voice for disabled students, when it
was led by Sue Reinhardt and Linn Sorge, to a department
interested only in appeasing the NIU administration under
its current director, Nancy Kasinski.

"Linn and Sue were strong advocates for students with
disabilities," Anzlovar said. "If there was a busted up
sidewalk, they made noise until that sidewalk was fixed.

"(However), the administration, especially the office of
student affairs and the president's office, didn't want to
hear it," he said.

Such sentiments were echoed by Terry Bowers, a junior
psychology major, who is physically disabled and must
navigate through campus in a wheelchair.

"When Linn and Sue were running it, if they were doing
construction or anything like that, they would call students
to let them know were the new obstacles were at," he said.
"I call (the center) now, and they don't know anything."

A new system

The Center for Accessibility Resources, which is under the
Division of Student Affairs, reports to Gary Gresholdt, the
assistant vice president for Student Affairs.

It is composed of the director and four coordinators, one
each for the hearing impaired, visually impaired, learning
disabilities and interpretation.

However, this was not always the case.

Prior to 1993, the office, then called Services for Students
with Disabilities, consisted of only two full-time staffers,
Sue Reinhardt and Linn Sorge, and several student workers.

Then, the Division of Student Affairs decided to reorganize
the services. In addition to adding the new coordinators,
student affairs also merged the program with the hearing
impaired section from the communication disorders
department.

However, the marriage was not a smooth one, and its effects
angered many individuals. For example, Anzlovar wrote NIU
Provost J. Carroll Moody, "The office of SSD ran smoothly
with two coordinators with expertise in the area of visual
impairment and blindness. It saddens me to see the quality
of services that NIU once offered to students with
disabilities deteriorate over a period of a few months."

The response

Kasinski said she knew there were criticisms, but they came
from a vocal minority.

"There are some complaints, some that are valid and some
that aren't, and you hear both," she said. However, she
stressed the center was providing an adequate level of
services.

Kasinski said NIU was in the process of adding new curb cuts
at the Recreation Center and that the repavement for several
crossing points and handicapped parking spots were on the
way.

Gresholdt also said there were no real problems with the
center, and that its staff was doing a good job for the
students.

"It really does advocate for students through the avenues
they have," he said, adding that the notion that disabled
students were being ignored was wrong.

Gresholdt said he had not heard of any student complaints
about the center. "When students have brought up concerns
regarding accessibility issues to the staff, the staff has
made appropriate contacts within the university to seek
resolution," he said.

However, a letter from the center to James Wilson, the
visually impaired student who was pushing for accessible
computers at NIU, begins, "Dr. Gary Gresholdt informed us
that you contacted him expressing dissatisfaction with the
university's response to your concerns for appropriate
computer accessibility in Meteorology 320."

Several complaint letters from other students were also sent
to him.

The effects

"Nothing gets done. Nancy (Kasinski) and Linn (Sorge) are
too busy fighting each other to get anything done," said
Christine Mow, a math secondary education major who
transferred from NIU after the spring semester and now lives
in Colorado. She was also an office worker at the
accessibility center, which she said operated so poorly its
mission was jeopardized.

"A lot of students have written letters to (Kasinski's)
superiors, and they have either received nasty letters back
or just been ignored," Mow said. "When it comes to being a
real advocate for students, they just don't want to help."

Others think Kasinski was appointed as director to mute the
criticism which traditionally came out of the office.

"Student affairs has effectively cut us off, the student
disabled community, from voicing our opinions about our
needs by placing a puppet inside of CAAR," Wilson said.

In addition, student workers, such as Anzlovar, say their
jobs were threatened by Kasinski for things like writing
letters to the editor, an assertion Mow backs up.

The result is that many who use the accessibility services
to help keep themselves on an even playing field with other
NIU students are left feeling frustrated and abandoned.

"A lot of us have waited for the day that something could be
done about this. We've written letters and had discussions
with Henley, and nothing has been done," Anzlovar said. "We
went from a good service unit, providing top-notch services,
to now where the services are severely lacking."