DO-IT News July 2003

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Volume 11, Number 2

Below are the articles of the DO-IT News July 2003 newsletter. These articles can also be seen all on one page at the Full Newsletter option.

Directors Digressions

Sheryl Burgstahler

Meet the 2003 Scholars!

DO-IT will soon host its annual Summer Study program for DO-IT Scholars. We have 20 new Scholars this year, funded by the state of Washington and the Boeing Company, plus one Scholar funded by NASA.

Patrick, who has Duchennes muscular dystrophy, is from Naches, WA. His favorite subjects include math and business. He is interested in becoming a financial consultant.

Crystal lives in Rice, WA. English is her favorite class. She enjoys reading and likes to use her imagination to write stories. Crystal has a brain injury.

Justin has a mobility impairment. He resides in Redmond, WA. Social studies is one of his favorite subjects because it is factual. He also likes science because of all the experiments.

Shaun is from Spokane, WA. He has a visual impairment. Three of his top career choices are veterinarian, zoologist, and high performance auto mechanic building hot rods. English and history are his favorite subjects.

Joshua lives in LaPush, WA. He enjoys English and home economics classes. Josh, who has a visual impairment, is interested in becoming a videogame programmer.

Annemarie lives in Seattle, WA. She likes math and also enjoys studying different cultures in her history classes. Annemarie, who has cerebral palsy, has been on the Honor Roll and received a speaker award in junior varsity debate.

Tressa is also from Seattle, WA. Math and science are her favorite subjects. Tressa, who has a learning disability, plans to become a marine biologist, specializing in dolphin communication.

Conrad comes from Kirkland, WA. He has Duchennes muscular dystrophy and is interested in engineering, architecture, and political science.

Joshua is a sophomore from Woodinville, WA. He has spina bifida, a mobility impairment. Joshua is a member of the Future Business Leaders of America. His favorite subjects in school are English and math.

Andrew also enjoys studying math and science and is interested in the field of pyrotechnics as well as biology. Andrew, who was born missing the radius bone of both forearms, is from Pasco, WA.

Jesse, who has dyslexia, resides in Seattle, WA. He is currently learning C programming language and hopes to someday work in the computer industry.

Senait, also from Seattle, WA, enjoys learning about genetics. Senait, whose left side of the body was left weak after an aneurysm, hopes to have a career in medicine or business.

Vanessa from Goldendale, WA, is interested in pursuing a career in social work. Vanessa has cerebral palsy and enjoys learning about wildlife.

Natasha, who is profoundly deaf, lives in Wapato, WA. She likes science, particularly participating in labs and conducting experiments. She aspires to be a teacher for the deaf.

Scott is from Eastsound, WA. He has attention deficit disorder (ADD). His dream job is to create a 3-D terrain for videogames and computer animation. Chemistry, physics, and computer technology are his favorite subjects in school.

Theresa, who has spina bifida, is from Camano Island, WA. She is a junior and her favorite classes are band and sign Llanguage. She participates on athletic teams in swimming and track.

Zachary, who has a brain injury, is a sophomore from Stanwood, WA. He enjoys chess and Tae Kwon Do. His favorite subjects are science and math. He is interested in a computer science career.

Skylor is a sophomore from Tacoma, WA. He has cerebral palsy. His career interests include meteorology and broadcasting. English, history, and math are his favorite classes.

Norma will be joining us from Corsicana, Texas. She is a high school junior and is deaf. She is interested in obtaining a degree in computer programming. She participates in track and is a member of the Calicos Drill Team.

Jamie is a high school junior from Kirkland, WA. She has a learning disability. Her academic interests include math and she also enjoys peer tutoring. Jamie is interested in studying to become a special education teacher.

Funding Opportunity for K-12 Educators and Outreach Programs

DO-IT is pleased to announce a funding opportunity for K-12 educators and outreach programs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska, as part of our new Northwest Alliance for Access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, funded by the National Science Foundation (cooperative agreement #HRD-0227995). DO-IT offers mini-grants to help defray the costs associated with being proactive in purchasing accessible materials, technology, lab equipment, and curriculum as well as training needed to more fully include students with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. The mini-grant application can be found at A copy of the grant application in print or alternate format may be requested by contacting DO-IT.

Summer Internships for Students with Disabilities

DO-IT is recruiting high school and college students with disabilities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska to join the AccessSTEM team. Students who join AccessSTEM may engage in an online community of peers and professionals, paid internships, other work experiences, research opportunities, and other activities as they transition to college, graduate school, and employment. The AccessSTEM team application may be found at A copy of the application in print or alternate format may be requested by contacting DO-IT.

Thank You Microsoft

Microsoft donated copies of Office XP™ Professional and Windows XP™ Professional for use in our DO-IT Scholars program. We will put them to good use!

DO-IT Staff Profile

Scott Bellman

I have had the good fortune of working for DO-IT for two years. Currently, I work as a project coordinator on three projects: DO-IT Scholars, DO-IT CAREERS for college students and recent graduates, and DO-IT's High School/High Tech program in Seattle.

Picture of DO-IT Staff Member Scott Bellman
DO-IT Staff member Scott

I grew up in a large Midwest city. Although I enjoyed the urban life, many summer weekends were spent on my aunt's farm or my grandmother's cabin on the banks of the Mississippi River. I stayed in the Midwest throughout my college years.

In college I studied psychology and business. To make ends meet, I had a job as a camp director which was part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer. I developed the program and managed a camp staff of 27 people on 100 acres. In this position, I developed management and administrative skills in between canoe trips, hikes, campfires, and soccer games! During my junior and senior year, I also worked as a crisis intervention counselor at a local crisis center and a clinical aide at a research hospital.

After my last summer as camp director in 1995, I returned to college to pursue a master's degree in counseling, with a focus on career counseling for people with disabilities. In my final semester, I interned at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for people with brain and spinal cord injuries. I decided to stay in Seattle because I love being near the water. I've always enjoyed rainy weather, and saying goodbye to those bone-chilling Midwest winters was easy.

I continued career counseling work at the largest mental health center in King County, where I spent several years helping people with disabilities access school and work. During this time, I earned a license as a mental health counselor in Washington State. My theoretical orientation is cognitive-behavioral counseling.

My personal interests include folk music, hiking, and the performing arts. I also love foreign films and traveling. I have been to many wonderful places including Peru, India, Jamaica, Thailand, Europe, and Mexico.

Working at DO-IT has been a wonderful experience. I continue to learn a great deal at conferences, by participating in DO-IT online discussions, and from co-workers, colleagues, and participants. Being a part of the DO-IT community is especially rewarding when I can help people access resources, expand their knowledge base, and solve problems.

Sarah Goes to College

Marilyn Hair, Sarah's Mom

(A continuation of the story printed in the May 2003 DO-IT News edition, re-printed with permission from The FOP Connection)

Developing supports for a person with a severe disability to live independently is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Six months from now, 18-year-old Sarah plans to move into a college dormitory and begin studies to earn a bachelor's degree in Spanish. Already we are working with nearly a dozen puzzle pieces to arrange the supports she will need. In a letter of medical necessity requested by Medicaid to pay for wheelchair repairs, Sarah's pediatrician wrote, "It will require extraordinary will and perseverance on Sarah's part to accomplish this transition in life." This is where Sarah's perseverance has taken her since the last issue of The FOP Connection:

  1. Sarah has been awarded a Provost Scholar's Award for $5000 to attend Seattle Pacific University. It is renewable for 4 years. Also, the teacher in the high school Career Center nominated Sarah for a scholarship offered by the local Women's University Club.
  2. Sarah's Dad and I set up a trust fund when she was a baby, and our lawyer recommended that we begin to spend it when Sarah turned 18. We are using it to pay for expenses such as Sarah's school supplies, out-of-pocket medical, high school graduation, and college preparation expenses.
  3. In December, Sarah signed a Durable Power of Attorney that gives permission to her parents to speak on her behalf and talk to doctors and public agencies who work with her. None of them has refused to talk to me or asked to see the Power of Attorney, but new medical and entitlement providers and college staff address Sarah, and I am learning to keep quiet while Sarah talks to them.
  4. Sarah applied for Social Security in December. She receives a Supplemental Security Income (SSI) check for $552 by direct-deposit on the first of each month. She also became eligible for Medicaid health insurance and receives a Medical Identification Card in the mail each month.
  5. Sarah and I met with her counselor from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to write a blueprint for her career and educational goals, including the costs. Because we claim Sarah as a dependent on our federal tax return, her Dad and I submitted a financial disclosure of our assets, income, and expenses to DVR.
  6. DVR contracted with an Assistive Technology Specialist to do an Independent Living Evaluation in the dorm where Sarah will live next year. In late March, Sarah and her parents, the DVR Counselor, the University's Disabled Student Services (DSS) Coordinator and Buildings and Grounds Supervisor, and the AT Specialist gathered at Emerson Dormitory. The Specialist asked Sarah how she goes about her life: "How do you transfer? Use the toilet? Shower? What kind of bed do you sleep in?" Sarah demonstrated the features of her Permobil wheelchair. He asked about her computer accommodations, which include a trackball mouse, dowels for typing, ScreenDoors™ onscreen keyboard and word prediction software, StickyKeys™ to type capital letters, and a Palmpilot™ for taking notes. He offered suggestions that will help her do college-level work:
    • A new computer with the Windows XP™ Operating System.
    • Miniature keyboard, to accommodate her limited range of motion.
    • Kurzweil 3000™ editing software to scan textbook pages and take notes on the computer. SPU uses this program in the DSS office.
    • Scanner and printer.
    • An environmental control unit to access phone, lights, computer, thermostat, TV, and VCR. It can be activated by a switch or voice.
    The group toured a double room with private bath and shower. Sarah would live there without a roommate; her attendant would sleep in the second bed. The adjustable-height desk is tall enough for Sarah's knees to fit underneath. The University will provide a sensor to open Sarah's room door remotely when she drives past the electric eye. The room's only drawback is a step into the shower. We arranged a follow-up visit for Sarah and an aide to practice transferring to the toilet and shower using a DMV-brand power floor lift and a shower chair. The AT Specialist will write a report to recommend accommodations, including remodeling the shower if necessary, and listing the cost. Then the University, DVR and her parents will negotiate what to buy and who will pay for it. The Assistive Technology Specialist will continue to be part of the team until Sarah's accommodations are ready.
  7. An adult friend volunteered to be Sarah's attendant for half a day each week, and one of Sarah's high school aides is interested in working for her part-time while she goes to school herself. I will contact the State Department of Social and Health Services to apply for funding for attendant care, specifically the Community Options Program Entry System (COPES) Program. This is Washington State's name for a Medicaid program that pays for personal care and housekeeping so people can live in their homes. We hope DVR will pay for aide-time during the school day, and COPES will fund personal and overnight care. Then we will recruit a staff or hire an agency to find people to be Sarah's personal care attendants.
  8. Finally, Sarah will attend Premiere, SPU's freshman orientation session, on May 17th. Sarah will meet future classmates, learn about the campus and the curriculum, and register for fall classes. She asked the DSS office for accommodations to take the math qualifying test. The DSS Coordinator suggested that instead of taking it with other incoming freshmen during Premiere, Sarah can take it privately in the DSS office sometime next summer.

    The pieces in Sarah's support system are beginning to fit together. Many people are working to help her make the transition to college, and a crowd of onlookers are cheering her on.

Tech Tips: The AccessIT Knowledge Base May Have the Answers You are Looking For

Picture of students working  together at a computer and a sign language interpreter is interpreting.
With the help of a Sign Language interpreter, DO-IT Scholars learn about engineering during Summer Study

Among our many programs, DO-IT co-directs the National Center for Accessible Information Technology in Education, more affectionately known as AccessIT. AccessIT's mission is to promote the use of electronic and information technology for students and employees with disabilities in educational institutions at all academic levels. It approaches this mission in many ways, one of which is the AccessIT Knowledge Base, located at

The Knowledge Base is a database of short articles related to technology accessibility, with a Web-based interface that allows users to easily search for information that meets their needs. There are currently over 100 articles in the Knowledge Base, with more added each week. Articles include Q&As such as "Is PDF Accessible?" and "Are Chat Rooms Accessible?", plus a growing number of case studies and promising practices. The home page provides direct links to the most recent articles, but users can also search for articles by keyword, type of article, or topic ( Users can also browse through a list of all articles currently in the Knowledge Base ( As the number of articles continues to grow, the AccessIT Knowledge Base becomes a more comprehensive resource that helps visitors easily search for answers to their technology accessibility questions.

Goodbye, Brandon

Picture of DO-IT Scholar Brandon
2001 DO-IT Scholar, Brandon

I am sorry to report that Brandon, a 2001 Scholar, died on April 3rd from a respiratory infection. A high-energy kid, many of us will remember him racing around campus in his power wheelchair. Brandon's favorite school subject was mathematics. He looked forward to earning a college degree and becoming a software engineer. We will miss having Brandon as part of our DO-IT family.





The Thread - Challenges in Employment

A DO-IT Scholar recently posed the following question in our Internet discussion forum. I will share with you some of the responses so that you can get a flavor of the many rich conversations the DO-IT community has online.

What was the biggest challenge that any of you have faced in employment? How did you meet or overcome the challenge?

Mentor: That is a good question. It is difficult to choose just one thing. But I would say that the most difficult things for me regarding transitioning to employment were developing realistic self-confidence at work and developing practical skills in the workplace. Book knowledge and working in a classroom are great, but the real world can be a very different thing. Self-awareness and developing "soft skills" are a good start.

Mentor: Hello Everyone. In response to the question, I haven't had much experience in employment but I will give you some insight on what little I have had. I'd say my biggest challenge in getting and keeping a job would have to be transportation. Since I don't drive (yet, hopefully soon), I have to rely on public transportation which, unfortunately, isn't that great...(for all of you wheelchair users that have heard of Access, you know what I am talking about). Anyway, so far that's my biggest [challenge]. The recent solution I have come up with is working with DVR (Division of Vocational Rehabilitation). They help people with disabilities find employment. It has taken a little while to get things started, but they have found me a couple of jobs already. I am anxious to get out there.

Picture of Director Sheryl  Burgstahler and Ambassador Ryan working on a computer together.
Director Sheryl Burgstahler and Ambassador Ryan, who is now a student at the University of Washington, work together on "DO-IT stuff"

Mentor: It is very important to promote yourself as a qualified individual who would add great value to the company. You should practice interviewing and dress professionally. If your disability is visible, discuss issues frankly and how you have overcome barriers and limitations. Discuss any accommodations that you will bring. You may also want to ask your interviewer if they have additional questions or concerns. Remember to smile!

It is important to note that it is difficult for everyone to find his or her first job. Try not to assume your disability is what was the underlying reason you did not get the job. During school, try to get experience to put on your resume such as internships and volunteer opportunities. Summer jobs are good too. I got my first job from my professor, as he was impressed with my ability. You might want to start networking even while in college. Your professors and guidance center may be a good connection.

Issues will not stop at obtaining a position. Afterwards, you may need to prove yourself to your co-workers. This happens for all employees not just an employee with a disability. However, I have noticed that sometimes it is more important for a person with a disability. I work with many consumers and customers, which is face-to-face interaction. I notice some people have no difficulty accepting me as an equal. However, it is difficult for others. The best thing is to put someone at ease by showing your skills or talking to them in a friendly manner. Try not to take anything to heart, as it is many times a lack of understanding or exposure to people with disabilities.

Other issues that are struggling are not directly related to my position. The problems are PCA [personal care assistant] staffing, the extra energy it takes, transportation, and medical issues. Your personal life will play a part in your ability to effectively complete your job.

When starting a new job, try to figure out what type of accommodations would assist you on the job. If you do not have ideas or experience problems right away, contact your vocational counselor about an on-site job analysis and assessment. I made a mistake of not doing this and ended up doing a patch technology job. Extremely frustrating! I even work in the area of assessment and assistive technology. I preach about accommodations but did not do it for myself. Make sure that you receive training with your accommodations as others may have ideas that you have not considered and without training, it will become less of a benefit...

You may want to talk with your supervisor after several weeks. Discuss your job performance and any problems that have occurred. It is important to be proactive. If you feel that you are not being accepted at work, try bringing treats one morning and introducing yourself.

There is more that I could add but I hope you find this useful. Working is another stage in your life showing your accomplishments. However, if you do not find the job, there are many more opportunities for you. Volunteering is also an important prospect and then you can always look for work at a later time. Good luck.

Mentor: My biggest challenge has been the day to day grind! I am a quad in a motorized chair and currently have 6 part-time attendants that assist me. But, getting up and driven to work every day is a 2.5 hour adventure fraught with intrigue and disaster at every turn (late attendants, bowel program miscues, vomiting cats, you name it!). I refer to myself as a cottage industry, employing more staff to get me to work and help me live independently than I actually supervise at my job site. Trying to work a life into this endeavor is not easy but still pretty crucial to sanity and one's well being. Because of the rigors of this challenge, it has left me with little energy or time to focus on career development. When I started work, there were so few employers willing to hire disabled individuals, I sort of put all my energy into being successful in the setting I was in rather than looking around at potential opportunities elsewhere. I believe it might be better now and certainly hope that it is!

Mentor: This is a good question! There is an ebb and flow, a rhythm, to work. Some days you have enough energy to take on the world, some days all you want is a pillow. Some days you feel like Einstein, some days ya don't (anyone else about to say "Almond Joy has Nuts, Mounds don't"?).

Keeping this rhythm at a reasonable level in regards to work productivity is tricky enough WITHOUT a disability. Factor in levels of pain, fatigue, focus, etc., and how those things interact with work, and whammo! Things can get a lot more difficult to manage.

I find it is important for me to watch my emotional and physical levels. Sometimes I need to go home, grab a drink, some really easy food to cook, hit the couch, and stare at the TV for a night. I may need to be sure and lay a certain way, support a certain joint, etc... In other words, sometimes it's your brain that needs to shut down, sometimes it's your body, sometimes it's both.

This next one is a fairly new discovery for me, but basically you can do the above too much and get into a rut. You usually know you're in one when your life becomes sleeping and working- and nothing else. I find that occasionally, even if I'm tired, I need to make myself go out with friends, hear music, go to a movie, dancing, whatever. DO SOMETHING to revitalize the spark. There are a few friends in my life who basically have this role—and I've told 'em that!

Mentor: I work out of my house as a Remote Troubleshooter for a technology company. I do their technical service calls about their 5 different communication devices they manufacture. I have been doing this for about 2 and a half years already. Both my company and myself have had some great success with this setup, mainly because I use the communication device to communicate with too, the majority of our customers have disabilities too, and being helped by me offers them some hope for themselves to get either an education, a job or both.

Last August I got asked by one of my bosses to speak at an employment conference for communication device users. Right in my speech I said that I believe that it's because of stupidity on the part of the employer with the job, why they don't want to hire us.

Another point I would like to make and something we should look into somewhat is that I'm beginning to think some employers believe that the government is going to take care of us no matter what because of our disabilities, so why do we need to draw a wage. They're more interested in giving that money to somebody, who the government isn't entitled to support. I know that some of us do need the government's help with medical costs that we couldn't otherwise pay without going into major debt, and to me the government is disabling us that way. I would honestly like to see the government try to make a program just for medical and attendant costs for those of us who can work, but just need help paying for wheelchairs, attendant care and other medical things, most of us could be responsible to pay other bills. It wouldn't only be helping us, it would also save the government tons of money to better help people in the long run.

Scholar: I personally have no experience working. I missed my chance at co-op this summer because of health reasons. But my work study job was the pits. The Dean I worked for told me what to do then complained because I couldn't set up appointments with her every day to discuss what was going on. I had classes and PT appointments to work around and she was hardly ever in when I was free. So she really destroyed my confidence in what I was supposed to do.

Mentor: It sounds as if this dean was hardly fit to work with you. I encourage you to find other people who have a better talent for working with people.

Mentor: My biggest challenge was finding the courage to stand up and say, "I really am an artist; I really am a writer. And that really is what I'm going to do." For me, employment is not only a matter of finding work that inspires me, but also work that provides me with the freedom to pursue my love for creation.

It hasn't been easy. At middle age I completed a degree in English, thanks to financial aid. I'm not working now, not in the conventional sense, but I've been lucky to have met people who understand what it is I do, and believe in it.

I'm looking for work, because I know my current situation won't last forever, and I don't want it to. It's been a disheartening experience, to find people will not hire me based on their stereotypical heuristics. They see my age, not my intelligence, my creativity, my strength. But I've never been one to let a little thing like insurmountable odds stop me.;) Still, ahead of me are some frightening changes I've never faced, but whatever comes next, I can stand straight, and walk into my future knowing who and what I am. It will be a continuing challenge in a nation where cleverness is valued over intellectualism, where the concrete and the material are valued over the aesthetic and the spiritual, where brute force is more common than creative force. But then, life would be sooo dull and flat without challenges, don't you think?

Mentor: Hehe, well, my answer has a bit of a funny spin on it. I'll start off by saying that I'm completely blind. I got my degree in biology, but turned artist in a pretty serious way during college and it's only become more intense. Art is the thing I love and that I know I am supposed to be doing, so in hunting for a job I wanted something that would give me flexible hours, that I wouldn't have to take home, that might allow me to work later in the day so that I could stay up drawing at night, etc. I thought a bookstore or coffee shop would be nice, but much much easier said than done. I actually applied to Starbucks and Tulley's during that time, and found, for example, that my ability to do math in my head and on an abacus was essentially made obsolete by their fancy touch screen inventory computers. And as for a bookstore, I love books, read tons of them, but couldn't actually stalk shelves and all that so I didn't even try. Oh, I should toss in here that I'm actually not all that fond of computers either. I still prefer to Braille using a slate and stylus for example.

So, the mixed bag in summary, I guess, is that because I'm an artist I didn't want to hold a standard office job and I didn't want a "career" because I know what I want to do, but the jobs that such people usually hold were um made not very open to me.

There eventually was a solution. I became a [product] consultant. I control my hours, get to interact with people, can make it a career if I want and not if I want, and still have much time for art.

Mentor: Hi all, I think one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced at work was making the technology accessible with speech. On my most recent teams, I have had to use software that could not be easily accessed using speech out put and the keyboard. Among the least accessible programs was one called Remedy, which was used to log calls. To resolve this, the commission for the blind hired a programmer to come in and check out the software. His duty was to determine if there was a way to make the programs accessible. He was able to program the speech software so it would read all the text boxes in the call-tracking software. I really should learn how to program a speech system so it can interface with non-standard software, but I haven't done it yet. Does anyone else have any comments on this?

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More About DO-IT

DO-IT NEWS is published at the University of Washington with input from DO-IT staff, Pals, Scholars, Ambassadors, and Mentors. DO-IT is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and the State of Washington.

DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) serves to increase the successful participation of individuals with disabilities in challenging academic programs such as those in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology. Primary funding for DO-IT is provided by the National Science Foundation, the State of Washington, and the U.S. Department of Education. DO-IT is a collaboration of UW Information Technology and the Colleges of Engineering and Education at the University of Washington.

Grants and gifts fund DO-IT publications, videos, and programs to support the academic and career success of people with disabilities. Contribute today by sending a check to DO-IT, Box 354842, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-4842.

Your gift is tax deductible as specified in IRS regulations. Pursuant to RCW 19.09, the University of Washington is registered as a charitable organization with the Secretary of State, state of Washington. For more information call the Office of the Secretary of State, 1-800-322-4483.

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