Overcoming the Odds . . .
SHU Disabled Students Don’t Let Physical Obstacles
Get in the Way of Success
By Austin Harper ’13—Student Writer
There are currently anywhere from 25–75 disabled students at Siena Heights University. Learning and mobile disabilities, visual, hearing and cognitive impairments and autism, all of these and more are challenges among some of SHU’s most promising students.
There may be the assumption that trials such as these greatly hinder these students; that they struggle day in and day out, barely passing classes. There may even be the perception that they may never even be able enter into the workforce.
According to Bob Ritz (left, middle), SHU’s learning specialist/ADA coordinator, this could not be further from reality. He said these students are given every opportunity to succeed. First, they must have documentation of their disability and they must ask for the help. As long as they do this, he and SHU will provide any assistance the students require.
“Enlarged textbooks, taped lectures, extended test times, I provide all of these accommodations,” Ritz said. “A student with ADD may be distracted by a pencil being tapped on a desk or a page being turned. They can take their test in my office, free of distractions, to level the playing field.”
Though these students are given assistance, he said they do not have it easy. Leaving counselors and constant parent support during high school, college is an extremely different experience.
“They have to do a lot on their own,” Ritz said.
Students with documented disabilities usually meet with Ritz for only their first year, but he has had some students who have been in contact with him all four years until graduation.
“These students graduate because of their hard work and perseverance,” Ritz said. “They are not afraid to get help and they make it. I find them outstanding.”
A prime example of one of these outstanding students is Tiffany Swoish.
Swoish, a junior criminal justice major, has ocular albinism, an inherited condition in which the eyes lack melanin pigment, result-ing in low vision. Her vision is 20/80, and she
is considered legally blind.
“I was born with it, so I didn’t really have to get used to anything,” she said. “I take notes by listening instead of reading the board. I also have enlarged textbooks.”
Swoish said she does not allow her visual impairment to have an effect on her success. Late last year she applied for an internship geared especially for disabled students.
“I was notified in February that I had been accepted,” she said. “Then I was interviewed twice for placement purposes. Because of my interest in criminal justice, I was placed with a lobbyist group in (Washington) D.C. I was involved with the Walmart (in) federal government relations. I was their only intern.”
She had the opportunity to lunch with congressmen, assisted on a lobbying team, attended a congressional hearing, conducted important research and attended fundraisers. Swoish also had a large role in a project determining the hiring policies for ex-offenders (anyone with a criminal record).
Her mentor during the internship was a congressional spouse.
“She was really nice to work with,” Swoish said. She was best friends with (Republican vice presidential candidate) Paul Ryan and she was able to give me and my parents a tour of the White House. I got to go twice!”
She said the internship has opened many doors for her.
“Before, I really wanted to go into law. But now I want to move to D.C. when I graduate and maybe do more in lobbying, perhaps something in political science. The internship was the best experience of my life,” she said.
As if that were not remarkable enough, Swoish is a tutor in the SHU Writing Center. She started a group on campus her freshman year called Adopt a Sister.
“I believed that since these women (Adrian Dominican Sisters) are the founders of the school, it would be wonderful to have some interaction between them and the students,” she said of the Adopt a Sister group. “Last year we visited about 27 Sisters. I just wish there was someone to take it over when I graduate.”
Swoish has also entered numerous art competitions, and has had her art—mainly macro photography and graphic design—exhibited in Australia, the U.S. Capitol building, on billboards in Florida, Pennsylvania and all over Michigan.
Swoish has a blog recounting her internship at www.aapdinterns.blogspot.com.
Another student who has carved out a successful presence on campus is Vijay Caplon.
Most everyone on the Adrian campus has seen him in the lower level of the Science Building zooming in and out of classrooms and hallways in his electric wheelchair. But not many, according to Caplon, have really gotten to know him.
“I’m actually kind of a private person,” he said. “You can’t get much out of me.”
Caplon, who has very limited use of his arms and legs, is a second-year senior math major and transfer student from Jackson Community College. When he graduates, he hopes to go into law, advocating for the disabled. He would eventually like to start a non-profit business. He is adopted, as are his six siblings.
“We are from all over the place: Texas, Detroit, Arizona,” he said. “One of my brothers and I were born in India. I lived there for eight years. I was in and out of a lot of orphanages.”
He said his adopted mother encouraged him to rely on himself for many things.
“She would stick me in the bathroom and tell me ‘good luck,’ ” Caplon said. “I had to learn how to do things on my own. My mom is awesome.”
Caplon has thrived at Siena Heights and has even started Disability Awareness Week.
“Monday and Tuesday we have tables around campus with literature explaining different disabilities,” he said. “Wednesday is wheelchair hockey, which is amazing. Thursday there is a guest speaker and Friday is the Eat with a Disability Dinner. People have to eat blind, deaf, with no hands, to see what it is really like.”
Caplon’s other activities include being the vice president of the Math Club, president of S.H.U.G.G.(Siena Heights University Gamers Guild) member of the Student Veterans group and tutoring in the Math Cave.
“I am also going to take people on a wheelchair tour of the school as part of disability awareness,” he said. “They can see how I have to get around.”
When asked about how he had to overcome his disability, he said, “I don’t believe in disabilities. You are your only disability. If you tell yourself you have one, you have one.”
He certainly has proven this to be true: Caplon has been spotted going to local eateries, the mall, all over Adrian in his wheelchair, which goes 10 miles per hour at top speed. “I go everywhere in this thing!” he said.