Disability does not stop student from teaching, learning

By Renee Tomcanin
February 22, 2001

Shelly Nixon’s book courtesy of Renee Tomcanin

“My imagination allows me to outrun my limitations,” junior Shelley Nixon says in her first book “From Where I Sit.” Nixon’s writings express her thoughts in a way she never thought possible.

On Feb. 19, Nixon and Andrea Maneval, coordinator of Disability Support Services, spoke about what it is like for students, children and adults living with both physical and learning disabilities.

Nixon has lived all her life with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. She said that because of people’s attitudes she had to work harder. Many people had to look past the wheelchair to see her true personality.

Nixon’s desire to write stems to when she was 7 and watching an episode of “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.” She remembers him telling his television neighbors that anyone could write. In her book, she includes the letter she wrote to him telling him that she would write a book.

Excerpts from Nixon’s book were read at the talk. They ranged from early memories of the teasing she had to endure, to an e-mail she wrote to her friend Jim after he died in 1995. Jim had muscular dystrophy.

Nixon admits that college has been hard, but she enjoys the experience. Nixon takes three classes a semester. She would like to be a counselor for disabled children.

Teachers who have had Nixon describer her as “a wonderful and diligent student.” They also praise her writing.

When asked about how Cabrini students were, she said, “They are wonderful, much better than in high school.”

Nixon’s cerebral palsy does not stop her from experiencing the world. For example, she recently went scuba diving.

Maneval also showed a short video that explored the world of a person living with a learning disability. Many teachers and parents often blame the person with the learning disorder for not trying hard enough. They cannot understand the frustration, anxiety and tension that people with learning disabilities experience.

In the video, a group of parents, teachers, social workers and psychologists went through an experiment to put them in the mindset of a student with a learning disorder. They were subject to many of the same demands students are put through when their brain is not processing fast enough to come up with a quick response.

Mainstreaming children with learning disabilities was also discussed. “It may be socially good, but it fails without support,” Maneval said.

Nixon and Maneval both said Cabrini is a good place for students with disabilities. Measures are being made to make the campus more accessible.

Nixon’s outlook for the future is optimistic. As long as she has support and “air in her tires,” she can only go forward.

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Renee Tomcanin

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