Fortunately, at College of Marin she was able to find an instructor whose commitment to diversity is real and true.
"When I first was thinking about taking Ron Gaiz's speech class, he was very hesitant," said Nicole in an email interview. "He never had a student who couldn't speak verbally and who used a speech machine. He told me that he had his doubts because giving speeches was the main objective in his classes, but he wasn't going to discriminate based on my disability. After being in his class all semester, I have shown that I'm able to give speeches just like my classmates. Mr. Gaiz has treated me like any other student and I've greatly appreciated it!"
The keys to her success in this class were adaptive technology and the staff at the college's Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS).
"Right before Spring Break," explains Nicole, "my regular speech machine that I have used for the past ten years broke, so I was pretty worried that I would have to drop the class. So, Cynthia (Steussy, her in-class aide) and I went to Jennifer (Foreman, DSPS counselor) and explained our situation. We started to brainstorm and then Marie (McCarthy, DSPS coordinator) heard about our crisis and said, 'Tell them it's an educational emergency. Nicole must have what is needed for this speech!!' Both Marie and Jennifer have been extremely supportive to me over the years. So during Spring Break, Cynthia got together with Ducie (Wagner, DSPS computer lab technician). Jennifer and Marie helped us with a connection with Adaptive Technologies in Santa Rosa. They suggested we use JAWS, a program used for the blind with a speech component, and Ducie and Cynthia then used a tape recorder to tape the spoken message after inputting it into the DSPS computer."
The class culminated in a final project, a group presentation.
"My group and I put a lot of time and work into our presentation," said Nicole. "It was an equal cooperation between all of us. They included me in everything we did."
For the presentation, each group member spoke individually -- Nicole's pre-taped speech had a a mechanical edge to it, but was clear and erudite -- and they also worked together with skits and demonstrations. Their subject was non-verbal communication. According to class feedback following the presentation, Nicole was "incredibly effective," zipping about in her power wheelchair, in demonstrating differences in "space" -- intimate, personal, social and public, as it relates to people's comfort zones -- as it is perceived in different cultures.
"The more you get to know someone," pointed out group member Serena Saed, "the less their disability becomes apparent."
"The main barriers that still exist for the disabled," said Nicole, "are the stereotypes that remain in the minds of people. Social integration means overcoming stereotypes, based on negative perceptions of physical differences. Social ostracism may be seen in downright avoidance or in well-meaning but displaced displays of patronizing behavior towards those considered 'less fortunate.' It is a very real form of discrimination -- just ask someone who has a disability, like me."
This class may have been harder than most, considering Nicole's particular disability, but none are easy.
"As with any class I take," she said, "it was a challenge to do, but a wonderful accomplishment when I completed it."
Her grades are excellent, and her academic and career goals are right on track.
"I am working towards getting my computer degree in desktop publishing and about done with my general education requirements," said Nicole. "After I graduate from College of Marin, I hope to get a job in desktop publishing."
Is there anything about her disability that she thinks people should know?
"I have Cerebral Palsy," said Nicole, "but even though I'm unable to talk, I am friendly and enjoy the company of others. So if you see me around, don't be shy, say hi."
College of Marin Speech instructorRon Gaiz (right) is well known on the College of Marin campus for his commitment to diversity and fair play -- and for interesting classes.
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