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Group aids students facing disabilities

BY EMILY BUSSE | NOVEMBER 20, 2009 7:21 AM

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Carly Armour had never earned a grade below a C.

So when Armour, who has been profoundly deaf in both ears since birth, was getting straight Fs by her junior year of college, she knew something was wrong.

According to her, it was discrimination.

Her small Georgia college had denied her a stenographer who would add “captions” to her classes, claiming it was beyond their “reasonable accommodations,” she said. After taking her case to court,

Armour transferred to the University of Georgia, where she formed a support group for students with disabilities, making it her mission to reduce discrimination.

Now she’s bringing it to the UI.

“Throughout my whole life I’ve faced discrimination,” said Armour, the webmaster for the UI Council on Disability Awareness. “I’m very passionate about making sure no one else has to. I know I can’t stop it, but I want to reduce it.”

This year, Armour started a group for UI students with disabilities to meet once a month and talk about their everyday life — hardships, medications, and ways to make the campus more disabled-friendly. The group’s second meeting is today at 1 p.m. in the Blank Honors Center.

Chris Brus, the director of UI Women in Science and Engineering, will share her experiences as a college student with ADD and learning disabilities with those at today’s meeting. Brus said she sees the group as an opportunity for community.

“It’s great to have a group of people where you’re not always trying to explain yourself,” she said. “There’s a baseline of understanding or at least acceptance that allows you not to have to actively filter everything you say or do. That’s exhausting.”

In 2008, 642 students registered with UI Student Disability Services, the most recent year available. Both the University of Northern Iowa — which has 230 disabled students — and Iowa State University have groups similar to the one Armour started in September.

But when Armour arrived at the UI a year ago, she was surprised one didn’t already exist.

After sitting down with UI junior Ryan Bruner, the UI Student Government senator for disabled students, Armour said the need for a group was obvious. Though it has started small, the members said they hope the group will become an officially recognized student organization this year.

Bruner, also a co-head of the group, said he would have benefited from the organization when he arrived as a freshman with epilepsy.

“I want freshmen to know that when they come to the UI and they have disabilities, they’re not going to be stuck in the corner,” he said. “They’re going to have a place to go.”

While fewer than 20 people turned out for the first meeting, members said they’re confident it will continue to grow. While waiting to receive student organization funding, the group is getting financial support from the Council on Disability Awareness for food at the meetings.

But Armour’s life partner, Jan Warren, knows the work isn’t over.

“[Armour’s] ambitious and determined whether for her own needs or helping other people,” Warren said. “This won’t be the last thing you hear about her.”

The group’s other co-head, UI senior Teresa Ball, said she hopes their presence on campus will be just as lasting.

“There’s some 300 groups on campus, but some things come and go,” she said. “Disabilities are never going to go away.”


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