“Due to your Disability, We cannot Accept You as a Student on this Campus.”
By Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF
Those were the words I heard from the admissions officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
I was salutatorian of my high school class – but, yes, I had difficulty walking due to cerebral palsy.
As a high school senior in 1961, I didn’t have the online option, of course, for obtaining my college degree. That was also before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
It was about the time Edward V. Roberts became the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He was a pioneering leader of the disability rights movement.
As a new high school grad, I had earned a four-year state scholarship from Wisconsin pre-Department of Vocational Rehabilitation services, and I was excited about getting my degree in journalism on the Madison campus.
I remember going to the Madison registrar office on Bascom Hill ready to apply for school, only to find the admissions people wouldn’t accept me because they believed I couldn’t climb the hills and steps on campus to make it between classes.
Reluctantly, I agreed to take my first two years of classes at the then Wisconsin State College at Platteville, a smaller, flat campus, which offered no degree or courses in journalism. I earned straight “A’s” and then was finally accepted as a junior at Madison, where I could obtain my journalism degree.
Here’s how I finally obtained my acceptance as a student on the Madison campus before the era of paratransit for students with disabilities, Disability Student Services, curb cuts on every corner and elevators or lifts in every building. During the summer after my sophomore year, I learned how to use Canadian crutches in the fields of our home farm, timing my pace each day so, by that fall, I knew I could even climb the Bascom Hill steps to get to class within the 15-minute break between sessions.
On May 18, 1965 (50 years ago), I received my B.S. degree as an honors graduate in journalism and advertising.
Looking back, I could have used today’s options in education as well as the conveniences mandated by the ADA that are now available to all. I could have also used an electric scooter, my Amigo, which, at the time, was not yet on the market.
My takeaway 50 years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison is this: Effective legislation and advocacy at the local, state and federal levels can improve lives for everyone.
Or, as then-Wisconsin Governor Warren Knowles (our commencement guest speaker) dryly told our graduating classes on May 18, 1965, “I congratulate and welcome you as soon-to-be taxpayers in this state.”
Copyright © 2015 Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.
As an Accredited Business Communicator and Global Career Development Facilitator, Jim Hasse is founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, the comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy. He’s the author of 14 books about disability employment and disability awareness.