Overcoming Disability

<strong>MICHAEL KARAKASH</strong> | Staff Photographer<br>The Disabilities Services Center on campus provides resources to help disabled students on campus. The trailer, which some say is hard to find, is located across from Engineering Lecture Hall on Ring Road.

MICHAEL KARAKASH | Staff Photographer
The Disabilities Services Center on campus provides resources to help disabled students on campus. The trailer, which some say is hard to find, is located across from Engineering Lecture Hall on Ring Road.

Imagine a typical lecture or a day of class. You go to class with a large coffee in hand, sit in your seat, take notes and try to process everything your professor is saying. If it’s a discussion, perhaps you raise your hand to ask questions or give comments.

Now imagine this same experience but with one difference — you can’t hear anything. Or maybe you cannot hear clearly. You can’t write notes and follow what the professor is saying at the same time. Perhaps you even try to keep up by reading the professor’s lips.

This is the experience of Ted Lim, a fourth-year Economics major at UCI. He was born with a genetic disorder that gave him blue eyes despite his Chinese and Taiwanese heritage. The disorder also left him profoundly deaf.

When he was only 1 year old, Ted’s parents quickly realized that their son was not responding to their speech. While most infants are startled to the point of tears at loud noises, Ted did not seem to notice them. The doctor said that Ted would never be able to talk, but since he received a cochlear implant very early — at age 4 — he is able to talk. In having an implant at an early age, he was able to hear human speech and develop speech like a normal toddler. While it is difficult for him to hear and his speech is not perfect, Ted is still able to speak.

For this reason, he does not speak American Sign Language, but instead speaks English and can communicate on a conversational level –although he says it can be difficult to follow a conversation with more than one person. In fact, most people nowadays don’t realize he is deaf at first. “Most people just assume that English is my second language,” Lim says.

Raised in La Habra, Ted attended a school for the deaf for his elementary years, but then attended a regular high school before coming to UCI. He explains that the difficulties of being a student with a disability go beyond academics – they are social as well. He recalls one instance in an accounting class in which the class broke into groups for a project. When the students in his group saw that he had trouble hearing, they ignored him. Ted asked the professor if he could work on the project alone after that.

“When there’s a group working on a project, I can’t really follow the conversation. When it’s three or more people it gets hard to follow. I’m either quiet or I act like the leader. Then they’re forced to talk to me,” Tim says of the situation.

While Ted uses a note-taker to assist him with taking notes in lectures, the system can have its flaws. Since many note-takers are other students, problems can arise if the student takes poor notes or misses class. “Accommodations here help, but they don’t put me on the same level as a hearing student” Ted said.

He understands that it may be uncomfortable for many people to try to communicate with someone who has a disability.

“If you’re used to other people with normal hearing and there’s this person who has trouble hearing, it’s natural to relate better to the person with hearing. It’s more comfortable. It’s natural. I don’t really explain my troubles. I just deal with it. I feel like if I were to go into depth about it, they’d be understanding, but they wouldn’t really understand,” Lim said.

His disability also makes it difficult to socialize with others comfortably. “Socially, I’m not really shy. I’m actually pretty outgoing,” Ted says. “But I don’t go to parties because I wouldn’t be able to hear or really enjoy it. It’s hard for me to really enjoy the music at clubs.”

In order to find people on campus who understand what it is like to be a college student with a disability, Ted goes to the Disabilities Service Center on campus. It is a resource for students with orthopedic, visual, hearing, learning, chronic health and psychological disorders. While they provide academic resources and support, there is no resource for meeting and connecting with other students with disabilities.

One example is dorm life. “I lived in the dorms my freshman year,” Ted recalls. “It was very educational, but it was kind of hard for me to adjust being in the dorms. It was really hard for me to communicate. It was hard to socialize as a group or to go to Pippin because it’s loud. I’m a lot better at it now.”

In order to remedy the lack of resources for networking and socializing for students with disabilities, Ted is starting a club called Anteaters With Disabilities at UCI. He hopes to provide an outlet for students with disabilities to meet and socialize both on and off campus. The club is planning an event for the upcoming quarter, which Ted hopes will be a big success.

Ted’s work with this club is an effort to reach out to other disabled students on campus. He wants to meet others who share his experience. Ted’s ability to overcome a situation out of his control has left him with a sense of gratitude. His ability to vocally communicate and socialize is a rare occurrence for someone with his disability. While he still faces personal and academic challenges, all in all, he knows how fortunate he is. “I guess I am pretty lucky,” he says with a smile.

Those interested in Anteaters With Disabilities at UCI should contact Ted at tnlim@uci.edu.