Thomas Bradley / Campus editor
At 10 years old, a seemingly healthy boy was diagnosed with a brain tumor requiring him to have two surgeries before he had even finished middle school. At 16, he found out another tumor had grown in his brain stem. After another visit to the operating table, Paul Velasquez would never be the same.
When Velasquez tried to get out of his hospital bed, he fell, realizing he had lost significant nerve sensory on the left side of his body as a result of surgery. Velasquez developed left-sided hemiparesis, which affects communication between his brain and muscles, and suffers from painful migraines and small seizures.
But unless he told you, you would never know it. On the outside, Velasquez appears to be like any other Ohio State student. He has been taking classes on and off at OSU since 1996, and is pursuing a degree in sexuality studies. As the president of the campus organization UNITY: An Alliance of Students With and Without Disabilities, Velasquez said that it is his intention to bring students together.
“I don’t tell people I’m disabled, unless it’s apparent that I need to,” Velasquez said.
Velasquez said that attitude is common among people with non-visible disabilities.
“Some students don’t want to be associated with disability,” he said. “It’s all about passing as normal.”
L. Scott Lissner, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) coordinator at OSU, said there are about 1,660 employees and about 1,450 students registered as having disabilities on campus.
“Statistically if we look at national data, nine percent of the undergraduate population should have a disability,” Lissner said. “We have about four percent registered, so we have two to three percent that may be on campus and aren’t telling us they’re here.”
The Office for Disability Services is a resource available to disabled students on campus to help them adjust to the college environment. ODS provides accommodations for registered students, such as extended time on exams and alternative test formats, sign language, the availability of an interpreter, access to computer programs that accommodate their needs, counseling and note-taking assistance.
While these resources are available at OSU, some prospective college students report they don’t really know what life will be like until they arrive on campus.
Such was the case for Tommy Tiedemann, a student with cerebral palsy who began his college search in 2003. He quickly realized there wasn’t enough information about services available for students like him and turned his pursuit for answers into his senior project.
His mother, Chris Wise Tiedemann, expanded his research and wrote “College Success for Students with Physical Disabilities,” a user guide detailing the accommodations for students like her son available at universities across the nation.
This user guide, published Feb. 1, is a resource that Lacy Compton, editor and promotions coordinator at Prufrock Press Inc., the book’s publisher, said is long overdue.
“More and more students are going to college than ever before,” Compton said. “As the population of students who are going to college grows, many will have to adjust to fit their needs.”
Lissner said that of roughly 2,500 four-year colleges in existence nationwide, 177 were listed as going beyond the minimum regulations required by the ADA, which was enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008.
Five schools were listed as being full-service universities, the most accessible for students with physical disabilities. University of California at Berkeley, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, were all listed.
OSU was listed as an ADA-Plus college, defined as an institution that goes beyond the requirements of the Disabilities Act, providing student services that vary among colleges in this group.
Compton said colleges were evaluated based on accessible housing, accessible transportation, the availability of attendants, wheel-chair sports, extracurricular clubs or activities and other criteria.
While OSU was rated well, based on accommodations like the Campus Area Bus Services paratransit service available for students with disabilities, Velasquez said he thinks there is room for improvement.
“There should be better communication between faculty and students about things like what should be considered an excused absence,” he said, going into detail about how his migraines often leave him unable to leave his bed some days.
Velasquez said he sometimes has difficulties getting the notes he needs for his classes. After the surgery that left him with nerve damage on his left side, the naturally left-handed student is unable to copy down notes quickly in class, forcing him to rely on student volunteer note-takers, who don’t always attend class and can be delayed in forwarding their notes.
The university is working on improving accessibility for students on several aspects of campus life, including on-campus housing.
“All the South Campus residence halls will be accessible after the construction is complete,” Lissner said.
Lissner said the university has also been working on reconstructing buildings to be more accessible, and assuring that new ones are. He said lot of work has been done in that area in the past decade.
“We’ve done a huge amount of construction since I came here. The average age of a building since renovation was 63 years when I was hired 12 years ago. Now it is 25 years,” Lissner said.
Velasquez said he hopes to see the improvements continue.
“What we have is nice, but Ohio State prides itself on being great,” he said. “We could be better with disability access and awareness.”
April is Disability Awareness Month and ODS will be marking the occasion with the 12th annual Multiple Perspectives conference April 24-25. The conference, which is free to the public, will host sessions, panels and discussions on disability issues.