Disability services goes the extra mile

9.2 percent of first-year college students report having a disability.

by Paul Hamilton

An enlightened 18-year-old, young woman taught this old dog a very important lesson in observation and manners the other day. I was attending an annual Disability Services scholarship luncheon to honor a few of the University’s most talented but challenged young people, when this first-year pup came over to our table and asked to join us.

This very seemingly cordial person proceeded to sit down and say nary a word, but, appeared (in my now obviously flawed opinion) to be ignoring all of us.

I was in the mood to challenge the concept of awkward shyness and potentially debilitating lack of self-confidence that I and others have suffered from in our youths. So, calling on what I consider my somewhat significant conversational skills, I began to focus the attention of the group on our nonparticipant with a series of quick verbal jabs designed to illicit some type of response from her.

Now, this strategy was successful, but only on a very limited basis, and it was not until her sign language interpreter sat down in front of her that I finally realized she was deaf.

So after haphazardly apologizing and enduring a rather awkward silence, I began to rejoice inside over the fact that there is indeed some semblance of truth to the old cliché that one can in fact learn something new every day.

Having said that, let me now say this: the Disability Student Services Office gets it, and it is nice to be able to observe that their standard is one of both competence and excellence.

I was thoroughly impressed with the counselors present at the scholarship program. They were very attentive, highly competent and refreshingly compassionate toward their charges and everyone else in the room.

I was most impressed with the interim director of Disability Student Services, Eric Schnell. I found his sincerity and obvious commitment to his mission to provide opportunity and support to disabled University students noteworthy as he was almost brought to tears in describing many of the events which led to the founding of several of the disability scholarships.

On a side note, if I could be so bold as to ask why this man has not been permanently hired? This one is a not rocket science folks, we want people like this, we need people like this, somebody please handle that.

It is all too common in our ultrainsensitive 21st century society that those who are physically, emotionally or mentally handicapped are not well invested in or properly cared for.

And in most if not all cases, properly invested in and properly cared for includes the following: education beyond high school, assistance with undergraduate and graduate school tuition, fees and books, services related to appropriate comprehension materials, testing accommodations, similar opportunities for participation in extracurricular student groups, recreational and intramural sports activities, along with the eventual opportunity to both contribute and showcase the various talents that disabled people posses by being hired into the workforce through specialized programs (or not).

I had another distinct pleasure in being invited to attend the Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities 8th Annual National Conference at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis. There, I met some seemingly committed industry professionals representing companies like Cargill, General Mills, Wal-Mart, and one particularly nice woman named Veda Engel who heads the recruitment outreach office for the U.S. Department of State in Washington.

We had a great conversation, and at its conclusion she challenged me to follow up and contact her to discuss potential opportunities further. Not being shy, I contacted her that next week, and it happened to be a few days after the I-35W bridge collapse.

My original interest had been to contact her regarding opportunities for myself, but an overwhelming sense of concern for my University community began to stir up within me. Also, being particularly inspired by the heroic actions of multiple Minnesotans (some having been members of the University) in terms of their immediate response and efforts to save lives, it was impossible to think only of myself.

So in my e-mails to Engel I felt compelled to reference the rather extraordinary response of rather ordinary Minnesotans. I also assured her that this was the character and quality of people she would find here at our University and suggested she should work with me in arranging an annual employment recruiting opportunity for students here with an emphasis on opportunities for the disabled since she said that was a priority for her office.

Engel did respond to me directly and provided some contact information for some of her underlings, but I have yet to hear from the most important one of them, a man by the name of Brian Flora, who happens to be the diplomat in residence for Minnesota. Wow, as long as I have lived here and I didn’t even know we had a diplomat in residence (albeit in Chicago).

So anyway, students interested in helping me with getting in touch with Mr. Flora in order to help facilitate his working with the University in setting up an annual recruiting event should email him at [email protected]

Gophers, let’s show some of that can-do spirit that we are so famously known for in this neck of the woods, and exercise some community self-interest by contacting these individuals in support of a strong recruiting effort for the Midwest.

Our national government is sorely in need of quite a bit more Minnesota talent, values and common sense. Please send that e-mail, your Uncle Sam needs you right now.

Paul Edward Hamilton welcomes your comments at [email protected]