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Communication Associate: Public Relations | Lori Melton | | (218) 726-8830

May 4, 2004
Susan Beasy Latto, UMD Director of Public Relations 218 726-8830
Barbara Wilson, UMD student 218 269-1016
Stephen Giunta, UMD Assistant Professor, Dept of Psychology 218 726-8639

UMD Student Does Not Let Disability Get in Her Way

Blinded 12 Years Ago
She Plans a Career of Helping Others
the Way She Says She Was Helped

At May 15th UMD commencement ceremonies at the DECC, graduating senior Barbara Wilson will walk down the aisle to receive her diploma on the proud arm of her teacher and friend, Assistant Professor Stephen Giunta. Barbara is blind, but rather than sit in a special seating area, she decided to sit with her classmates from the College of Education and Human Service Professions (CEHSP). And Professor Stephen Guinta was pleased to offer his accompaniment.

Barabara will graduate with a major in psychology and a minor in American Indian Studies. She has been accepted into the UMD masters of social work program and will begin her course work next fall. She has been at UMD for three years, after having transferred from Rainy River Community College in International Falls, Minnesota.

A soft-spoken, gentle woman, she has met and surmounted the many challenges and set-backs that life has sent her way. Barbara was a seeing person until about 12 years ago when she suddenly lost her sight due to a rare eye disease. It happened in a matter of months with virtually no chance to accept or adjust to the new situation. She was living in Big Grassy First Nation in Ontario, Canada, and there were no services available to her in this community. After going through a very frightening and traumatic time, she was able to secure services from the Canadian Institute for the Blind in Thunder Bay. It was then, Barbara says, she began to "see the light" and to learn the things that could help her live her life in a new way. She received basic mobility training and learned the use of adaptive equipment and services.

Even before she moved to Duluth, Barbara says she received services from the Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind, and they prepared her for the enormous transition of moving to a new community, living by herself, and learning to navigate the large and unfamiliar UMD campus. Upon enrolling at UMD, she sites the tremendous help and encouragement she consistently received from the UMD Disability Services/Access Center and its coordinator, Pam Griffin.

While at UMD Barbara has become very adept at mastering the use of many adaptive devises. She always carries cassette tapes and a voice activated tape recorder. She says UMD staff and professors have been extremely supportive and helpful in every way they could. She sites her two biggest academic challenges as: (1.) statistics class, with all the graphs, charts and formulas, and (2.) doing her experimental research projects.

She listens to textbooks on tape, is excellent on the computer keyboard, and can navigate the computer very successfully. She speaks with enthusiasm about her clever use of special adaptive learning methods such as plastic sheets placed over soft boards to trace along diagrams and charts, and the helpful computer software program she uses. She has mastered basic braille and is fluent in the Ojibwe language. In January she started taking piano lessons with UMD music instructor Lori Steward--saying that both teacher and student are learning a lot as they go along.

Barbara says she really enjoys being at UMD and looks forward to graduate school in the fall. "I have learned so much about myself, she says, "and I am so grateful for even the littlest things." Her plan is to work in the area of child welfare. "My intentions are to help others the way I was helped."

Barbara is especially grateful for the friendship and support she receives from fellow students and staff in the UMD American Indian Learning Resource Center. "They always make me feel so welcome, and
never allow me to lose sight of my goals."

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