Junior Matt Clizbe rarely eats his meals at the Johnson & Hardwick dining hall. Even though he has a meal plan, he tends not to eat at the Student Center either. Matt doesn’t eat out because it takes him roughly 20 minutes to walk from his residence hall, 1300, to the opposite side of campus-and this is on a good day.
Matt was born with cerebral palsy. He was deprived of oxygen at birth for an extended period of time causing brain damage significant enough for cerebral palsy to develop in both he and his triplet Craig, also a student here. Their brother David did not develop cerebral palsy.
Matt and Craig have a type of cerebral palsy called Spastic Dysplasia, a condition that affects their coordination, balance and muscle control. Canes help them to get around campus, but at a much slower pace than those without the disability. As a result, the brothers opt for microwave dinners over the dining hall because their disability often prevents them from catching a “quick” bite to eat.
“When the mental fatigue of having to think two steps ahead of your schedule in order to make it work, when that fatigue sets in and you’re trying to do it to the same degree to the gauge that others do, then you end up walking uphill a little bit with your day,” Craig said.
Matt and Craig may not be the only ones choosing to eat-in when dinnertime rolls around. There are 86 students with permanent physical disabilities currently attending Temple, a 22 percent increase from the 2003-04 school year. A total of 1,243 students attend Temple this year with some kind of disability in general.
Academic struggles and triumphs
Cerebral palsy also affects Matt and Craig’s reading speed and understanding of mathematics. Temple’s Office of Disability Resources and Services, located in the lower level of the Ritter Annex Building, offers students like Matt and Craig space to take their tests with extended time and resources. The brothers get time and a half on tests and can use a computer to type.
“The testing is really probably the most convenient and most advantageous thing they have,” Matt said.
DRS offers a multitude of technology-advanced services to students with disabilities. One example is a computer program called Kurzweil 3000 that assists people with print reading difficulties, such as dyslexia. The program enables individuals to listen to text and see text highlighted and defined by request on a computer screen. While helpful in theory, the program can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help.
“The thing reads like a robot, and so therefore sometimes it’s harder to understand what it is saying, so in a lot of ways it can become less of a help because you have to go back and review it and say ‘Wait a minute, what did that say?’ ” Matt said.
The absence of a professor during testing time can also be frustrating when Matt and Craig have questions about the exam.
“I took a multiple choice exam one time last semester, and [Craig and I] did the exam, and there were five questions that were based on something that as far as we could tell at the time, were totally irrelevant based on what we were told to study,” Matt said.
They learned later that these exam questions were based off a video shown during the regularly scheduled exam.
Regardless of problems surrounding testing accommodations or programs like Kurzweil 3000, Matt and Craig are quick to point out that DRS means well.
“As frustrating as something like DRS can be at times as far as time management, I believe its 100 percent clear that every single one of them have your best interest in mind,” Craig said.
A campus for all
Many older buildings on campus are without elevators available to the general student body. Anderson classrooms, Beury Hall, Curtis Hall, Pearson Hall, McGonigle Hall, and Presser Hall all have janitorial elevators that require a key to operate. Matt and Craig have had many frustrating experiences with elevators of this type, especially with the key-run elevator in Beury Hall.
“The elevator in Beury Hall doesn’t work very well at all. You have to catch it on a good day to signal it to come up and down, cause otherwise it stays put on the floor that it’s currently on, or even in between the floors,” Matt said.
All new buildings and renovations on campus comply with the Americans With Disability Act of 1990, said Marvin Gerstein, director of Temple’s Office of Planning and Design. The ADA prohibits discrimination of those with disabilities on the basis of public building accommodations. Strict ADA guidelines dictate the design and renovation of buildings on Temple’s campus, but some of Temple’s older buildings will always present problems to individuals with disabilities, Gerstein said. Buildings constructed before 1973 are not required to follow all ADA guidelines.
“If we were to try to go back and change everything in every building in compliance with ADA requirements the cost would be so enormous that it wouldn’t be able to happen,” Gerstein said.
Before the new atrium was built on the student center in 2001, students entered the building by a large number of steps.
“One of the main reasons we added the new atrium is because we wanted to have wheelchair accessibility,” Gerstein said. “Now you can enter the building right off the street, before you kind of had to use a side entrance down into the bookstore.”
Although not ADA required, ideally all main entrances to buildings on Temple’s campus would be wheelchair accessible, Gerstein said. This is impossible for some buildings, including Conwell Hall on Broad Street. A ramp cannot be placed at the main entrance of Conwell Hall because according to ADA standards, there is not enough space to fulfill all ramp guidelines. While not the main entrance, there is a handicap accessible ramp off the side of Conwell Hall that many people use to enter the building.
“The university takes pride and goes the extra mile to be a place that’s attractive to students with disabilities. We think that’s important– we’re an institution that prides ourselves on diversity, and diversity also includes people with disabilities,” Gerstein said.
Living life on their own
Matt and Craig did not attend Temple based on its services. With a disability, they said, each challenge is an experience gained for the better. For example, while they could have lived in the 1940 residence hall this year, they chose to experience dorm life in the1300 residence hall instead. Although 1300 is of greater distance to their classes, Matt and Craig try not to revolve their life around their disability.
“Most people don’t go to college with the mindset, ‘Whose going to give me as much assistance to the point where I hardly worry about anything.’ That’s not what college is about,” Craig said.
“We’ve met some disabled people that feel ‘They’re owed,’ ” Matt added. “But that’s not true. This world is not made to accommodate anyone in particular. Some people have different circumstances than others– there are rich people in this world, there are poor people in this world, and our particular challenge in this world happens to be cerebral palsy.”
Sammy Davis can be reached at S.Davis@temple.edu.