06 October 2009

Cerebral Palsy challenging but not a barrier to success

By Stacy Ellingen
Special to The Reporter

Is the economy ever going to get better?

Where are the jobs?

Will I ever get a job?

These are the questions going through the minds of recent college graduates.

I ask myself these same questions daily, except I have some extra concerns to worry about.

Because of oxygen loss at birth, I was diagnosed, at age 3 months, with Athetoid Cerebral Palsy .

CP affects every part of my body. My muscle tone fluctuates, which makes simple tasks seem impossible. Except for when I'm sleeping, my body is always moving. I need help with all of my basic needs (dressing, toileting, feeding, etc.) I use a power wheelchair to get around and a communication device to speak with others.

Despite having a disability, I've been able to accomplish far more than many people expected. After a couple of years of early childhood classes, from kindergarten on, I attended regular classes. A one-on-one assistant was assigned to help me in the classroom. I did almost all of my schoolwork on the computer and had accommodations as needed. Even though assignments took me much longer to do, I never took any assignment modifications. I graduated from Fond du Lac High School in June of 2003.

Moving on to college

Graduating from high school was a big accomplishment, certainly, but I knew I wanted to go on. In the fall of 2003, I started at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Before deciding on UW-Whitewater, my parents and I did a lot of research. We had to look at different things other than what a "normal" prospective college student would. Things such as accessibility, academic support services and personal care services were critical when I was looking at colleges.

UW-Whitewater is nationally known for specializing in serving students with physical disabilities. There's a center called the Center for Students with Disabilities where all of services for students with disabilities are located. Services include note taking, testing services, alternative media, transportation, physical therapy, and many others. There are also in-class aides for classes that have labs.

I started out majoring in business, but after struggling through a couple econ classes and an accounting class, I switched my major to advertising with a multimedia minor. Because assignments took me longer to complete, for the first few years, I was unable to take the full number of credits. Therefore, it took me a little longer, but I graduated in May. I can't even begin to express how thankful I am that I went on to college. It helped me become so much more independent and self-confident.

After graduation, I moved back home to Fond du Lac. Currently, I'm looking for a job and working on getting an apartment set up. I'm working very part-time as an online mentor for high school students with disabilities.

Dream career

My dream career is to design publications for a company. I'm working with the Division of Vocal Rehabilitation and disability employment agency to help me get a job. With the job market as tight as it is today, it will be a challenge for me to land a job. I will have to prove that, despite my disability, I will be beneficial to the employer. This isn't an easy task.

To be fair to the employer, I'll have to explain my situation and the accommodations I will need. I'm well aware that revealing this will automatically put me at a large disadvantage, but it's something that needs to be known.

In my classes, I've learned that because of tight deadlines, some companies work in a very fast-paced environment. That will be something that I will have to discuss with the employer.

Because of my physical limitations, things take me much longer to complete. People who know me know that I'm a very hard worker, and I won't stop working until the project is done. I'll have to prove that I'm dedicated to the job.

I have a portfolio that I can show which not only includes articles I've written for the paper, but also projects I've done. This will provide the employer with a sample of my capabilities.

Eventually, I'd like to work in an office setting, but I'm aware that when I first get a job, I'll most likely be working from home. If and when I work in an office, DVR will work with the employer to provide the accommodations I'll need. I'll need accommodations such as accessible doors, an accessible restroom, an adapted computer desk and an adapted keyboard.

Hiring people with disabilities adds diversity in the workplace, which builds companies' reputations. It shows that the company is willing to work with people with disabilities. It may take awhile, but I'm confident that I will find something right for me. I'll put it this way — I won't give up until I do.

Additional Facts
Disability series
Today’s personal stories by Stacy and Deb Elligen are part of a 4-part series by The Reporter that focuses on people with disabilities.

Monday’s feature talks with employers and services that help the disabled find employment and highlights the U.S. Census Bureau latest disability figures in Fond du Lac County.Tuesday we talk with Alto resident Don Saffron, who has started his own business.

October is observed as Disability Awareness Month to help empower Americans with disabilities through awareness.


1) Speak directly rather than through a companion or sign language interpreter who may be present.
2) Offer to shake hands when introduced. People with limited hand use or an artificial limb can usually shake hands.
3) Always identify yourself and others who may be with you when meeting someone with a visual disability.
4) If you offer assistance, wait until the offer is accepted.
5) Treat adults as adults. Never patronize people in wheelchairs by patting them on the head or shoulder.
6) Do not lean against or hang on someone’s wheelchair.
7) Listen attentively when talking with people who have difficulty speaking and wait for them to finish.
8) Place yourself at eye level when speaking to someone in a wheelchair or on crutches.
9) Tap a person who has a hearing disability on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention.
10) Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you happen to use a common expression, such as “See you later” or “Did you hear about this?” that seems to relate to a person’s disability.
More information is available from American Association of People with Disabilities at www.aapd-dc.org

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