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Discussion Highlights Students With Disabilities

Rigoberta Menchu Discussion is April 13

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Diversity of a Different Kind
Discussion Highlights Students With Disabilities

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
Posted April 7, 1999

Paul Cruzan has all the trademarks of the quintessential Haas business student: natty coat and tie; shiny wing-tipped shoes and short, well-groomed hair. A gifted student, he made the finals in a recent investment banking competition held on campus and will begin his dream job with one of Wall Street's top financial firms this fall.

Though typical-looking on the outside, Cruzan on the inside is very different than most people.

Cruzan has dyslexia and an auditory processing deficiency, invisible disabilities that make it difficult for him to encode and decode oral information. As a result, it takes him a little longer than his peers to mentally process what he reads and hears.

"I'm at a bit of a disadvantage in Berkeley's competitive arena," said Cruzan. "The challenge is in gathering enough information to get through my classes."

As a student with an invisible disability, Cruzan is not alone. More than 400 Berkeley students with such disabilities are confronted with a set of challenges distinct from those of students with more discernible disabilities.

On March 31, in an event made possible by a federal TRIO/SSS grant, a panel of students with disabilities shared experiences and helped to raise campus awareness of their unique health issues.

Panelists included Raymond Kutylo, a junior majoring in psychology and political science who has Attention Deficit Disorder. His condition makes it difficult for him to concentrate in the classroom. Maude Tanswai, a senior majoring in English, has lupus, an autoimmune disease that can flair up at any moment, causing her to miss classes. Karen Slentz, a senior majoring in Dutch Studies, suffers from chronic pain and is sometimes bedridden for days at a time.

Dealing with unseen disabilities while attending Berkeley can be challenging; the most difficult part, for many, is convincing others that their conditions exist.

"It's hard when you look fine but you feel horrible," said Tanswai. Cruzan, an athlete, said he sometimes feels "friction" from other students, who perceive him as a "dumb jock just sliding by" if he leaves the classroom early.

Living with a hidden disability often requires a less traditional approach to academics, such as taking a test outside of the classroom or requesting flexible deadlines or extra time with a professor. Sometimes these measures are confusing to professors and classmates.

Though their conditions may cause some disruptions in the classroom, panelists noted their presence also enriches the academic experience for all.

"The accommodations that we need -- such as ramps, automatic doors, translators, attendants and tutors -- sometimes obscure the fact that we are a beneficial resource to the university, not just an obstacle to be overcome," said Jim Harmon, a graduate psychology student who is blind.

The panelists credited much of their success to services offered by the Disabled Students Program, which include tutors, translators, assistants and formal letters addressed to their professors.

"I always thought this was something I had to go through myself," said Tanswai. "But the program enabled me to be the kind of student I always knew I could be."


April 7 - 13, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 29)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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