Disability Advocates Address Future Teachers

Michael Nevin and Sarah Vazquez, two individuals with special needs, spoke about the importance of special education at the Living Productively with Disabilities event at Ramapo College on Tuesday. The event was intended to familiarize teacher education students with some of the issues and needs that students with disabilities may have in the classroom.

“It’s only from listening to people who have gone through this that you can truly understand,” said Dr. Julie Norflus-Good, assistant professor of teacher education and one of the main organizers of the event.

Norflus-Good said it was important for Ramapo students to be able to make a positive mark and not give up on students who may need special accommodations.

Living Productively with Disabilities was co-sponsored by the Teacher Education Program and the Office of Specialized Services. It received a Platinum Series Grant with the support of Samuel Rosenberg, dean of the School of Social Sciences and Human Services.

“The information that the Ramapo Community received today was invaluable in helping people to see how motivation, determination and in some situations assistive technology devices can support how people can live productive lives with disabilities,” added Norflus-Good in an email.

The event started with a speech by Michael Nevin, who graduated from Bergen Community College and is currently working as a computer aide for Cerebral Palsy of New Jersey. He was also appointed as a member of the New Jersey State Special Education Advisory Council.

In addition to being a computer aide, Nevin works with the students and emphasizes the importance of self-advocacy and communication skills.

“Some teachers didn’t like to share a classroom with a special education student,” said Nevin, about the difficulties he experienced throughout his education because of his disability.

“In order to really follow dreams,” said Nevin, “make sure you are a part of the community, get involved in the community.”

Nevin’s speech was followed by Sarah Vazquez, who has many years of experience in supporting those with disabilities by speaking and writing nationally on behalf of those with disabilities.

Vazquez has a degree in psychology and English from Rutgers University and has already published her first autobiography titled “Paved Roads.”

The title of the book was inspired by the fact that Vazquez’s mother moved to the United States from Puerto Rico, where the roads were typically unpaved. “She never wanted cerebral palsy to be a rock in my shoe,” shared Vazquez.

“I had something to offer the world,” said Vazquez. However, she also had confrontations with teachers who didn’t want to work with special education students.

Vanessa Pinto, a junior in the teacher education program, said she was “inspired by how she [Vazquez] had dreams.” Pinto was surprised that there were teachers who gave Vazquez “a hard time.”

“I thought it was really inspiring,” said Kristi Kerpel, a senior in the teacher education program, “and sparking more and more of my interest.”

Kerpel was also surprised by the attitude Vazquez received from her teachers and was motivated to “become a teacher who can be respectful.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you are a special educator or if you are just a regular educator, you are an educator,” said Vazquez, and challenged the audience to perceive special needs students as “human beings with dreams and aspirations.”