When Hope Johnson receives her undergraduate degree in English from Messiah College (currently anticipated to occur in 2014), that moment will serve not only as a personal and academic milestone for her, but for the college as well.
Because when she graduates, she will earn the distinction of being the first nonverbal, nonambulatory graduate of Messiah College.
For three years prior to transferring to Messiah, she attended college in North Carolina at a school that was designed expressly to accommodate the needs of people with physical disabilities. Unfortunately, as she learned, accessibility is a far cry from acceptance.
Today, she couldn’t be more enthusiastic or excited about her experience at Messiah.
“Combined with the academic experience, the overall campus venture at Messiah College has been very positive,” Johnson says. “I’ve always been motivated to get my college degree, but the experience at Messiah College has been so much more than that. It is the general feeling of fitting in, being just one of the students. The atmosphere at Messiah has been extremely welcoming. Everyone is so friendly and accepting. I feel that my cerebral palsy is overlooked in the classroom, as well as in the campus setting, and my academic abilities take center stage. That’s awesome!”
Not to be outdone, Dr. Keith Drahn, director of Disability Services at Messiah, declares that theirs is a mutual admiration. Drahn has played a key role in helping Hope reach this point in her academic life. He is the one who initially insisted that Johnson and her mother contact United Cerebral Palsy (a local non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities) about getting the support she needed, not only to attend college at Messiah, but to live independently on campus. So Johnson’s graduation will signify a special moment for him personally and professionally, as well.
Just as she has benefited from the services Drahn’s department has provided, Messiah has, in turn, become even better equipped to accommodate other students with special needs. “Now, several years later, Hope, having trained us all in what works best for her, is excelling in her studies and growing in confidence and grace,” Drahn says. “I have no doubt that Hope will be able to fully achieve her educational goals at Messiah College. She is already making us proud.”
The summer break between academic years is a time of rest and relaxation to which all students look forward. But for Johnson, it is a much-needed time of recuperation as well. It takes her almost a month to recover from her strenuous schedule at school. Her time at school is primarily spent on her classwork. She does all her computer entry with just one toe, leaving her exhausted. “When I finally emerge from academic stupor, I go to our cottage at the beach and take it as easy as possible in preparation for the new onslaught of work when the next semester begins.”
Relaxation for Johnson typically includes sitting on the beach, listening to audiotapes, writing poetry and hanging out with friends. She is also a history buff and loves to watch historical movies and documentaries. The Office of Disability Services at Messiah College provides Johnson with her next semester’s books in computer-readable form, also known as electronic-text (or e-text). By mid-summer, she has already begun her academic work for the coming fall.
“With perseverance, self-motivation, faith in yourself and others’ faith in your abilities,” Johnson says, “I believe your wildest dreams are possible.”
(This article is excerpted and re-printed, with permission, from “Life Without Limits” newsletter, a publication of United Cerebral Palsy of Central Pennsylvania.)
Posted on January 11th, 2011