By Desirae Gooding
Names such as Stephen Hawking, and our nation’s former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt are some of the most widely recognized in history. Both men possess[ed] extraordinary levels of intelligence, and both, respectively use or have used this knowledge to benefit the entire world, as well as shed many of the common misconceptions about those living with limited physical capabilities. Why then, are those living similar lives to these men – this reporter included – met frequently with misconceptions about their intelligence and capabilities? Why then are the college campuses that these individuals journey to every day seemingly so lacking in the equipment and understanding that they – we – require in order to not only make the grade, but to feel truly a part of the college community?
Emma Lemanski is an 18-year-old Suffolk County Community College attendee. She is majoring in Theater Arts, and was diagnosed with a condition called Cerebral Palsy when she was very young. Cerebral Palsy – often referred to by its shorter acronym, CP – is a term used to describe a wide group of non-progressive and permanent movement disorders that cause physical disability as a person ages.
When asked if there was ever a particular instance, since beginning her college career, that she felt underestimated, Lemanski replies: “No, no time in particular. But, I feel like it’s always there.” “It” referring to the misconceptions that exist within the minds of her peers. “… People are always just ignoring me or passing me by because they think I’m mentally challenged,” she says.
“Even in the Theater Department, I feel that sometimes.”
Of herself, Emma says: “I’m naturally shy until I get to know you, [and] having a chair makes being social really hard for me, at times. [This is] especially because I’ve been rejected numerous times before, so I’m always afraid to put myself out there.”
When asked about the Department’s accommodations proving bothersome, Emma says: “When I was in my Understanding Theater class last semester … in one of the lecture halls … there was no way for me to get onto the stage to give my presentations,” she says. “So, my group and I had to present in the back of the room.” I then asked Emma if she felt the design of the campus itself could stand a little improvement, “Absolutely.” she replies, “I think there definitely need to be changes! The ramp of the Ammerman Building …” she says, “… is all the way around the back [of the building]. I think there should be [one] in the front!”
Brandon Lowell Meyers is currently majoring in Music Education at Five Towns College. He – much like Emma – was diagnosed with a disorder that takes its toll on an individual’s physical abilities as well; Multiple Sclerosis. MS as it’s typically referred to, is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord – and in the case of Meyers, it has made moving his limbs incredibly difficult. Confined to a wheelchair, the pianist, singer, and Ward Melville graduate finds himself frequently plagued by Five Towns’ incredible lack of preparedness for the disabled percentage of its student body. “There’s a lack of accessible bathrooms [at Five Towns],” Brandon says, beginning a long-list of understandable grievances. “There’s only one in each building, and one of them has a fault design; the door swings in rather than out to the stall, which makes it harder to close after the wheelchair is in it.”
Having an obvious love of music and the theater arts, the aspiring professor of music finds the design of his college’s theater to be severely lacking in the accommodations necessary to suit him. “[The theater] is hardly accessible,” he says. “It has stadium seating, which is multi-level, and the only place a disabled patron can sit to watch shows is on the end of the two back most rows. Meaning at any given time,” Meyers continues, “… only two wheelchair users can have a spot, because, if they put two wheelchairs side-by-side it would be [considered] a fire hazard.”
It is a requirement of Five Towns for all students in Brandon’s major, and those in one similar, to have the ability to play a certain number of instruments in order to obtain college credits. MS has made fulfilling these requirements not only challenging for the student but, in some cases, physically impossible. “I had to fight for two years for them to accommodate me [in that aspect]. I had to do a lot of self-advocating, and [I] basically had to research for myself, and spoon-feed them exactly what they should be doing.” There is an incredible air of frustration in his voice as he continues. “Had I not done that …” he says, “I would be getting no help. It’s not that I needed the requirements waived, it’s that I needed them to be reasonablely adapted to my situation.” This request hardly seems unreasonable. “They are working with me though.” Brandon says, with a slight smile. “They just waited until this semester when I’m [just about to take] those classes to finally open themselves up to going outside the box.”
He adds: “[This is] most likely because I saw for myself, that it wasn’t going to happen [on it’s own] anytime soon.”
Fortunately, since beginning his pursuit of a higher education, Brandon, it seems, has not encountered any of the ignorance that seems to plague Emma. Even though, when asked if certain individuals have, at times, called his intelligence into question, Meyers replies that such instances have “definitely happened,” he adds that the college environment mostly seems to be free of these unfair judgments. “I think, if anything, I’m overestimated [here]!” he laughs. “People see that I’m in a wheelchair, and they automatically think that it’s just my legs that don’t work! So, they usually think that if [an activity] just has to do with my arms, I’ll be fine. I usually have to explain that to people. But, underestimated? Not really!”