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October 25, 2002

AWC student's view clears thanks to new technology

From: Yuma Sun, AZ
Oct. 25, 2002


Brenda Wilson has seen a lot of things in her life but not as clearly or quite the same way as most people do.

That's because the 51-year-old Yuman is dyslexic, a medical malady that has only become easily detectable, in the last 15 years medical specialists say. The symptoms common to dyslexia usually begin with problems learning to read.

In Wilson's case, when she is attempting to read, numbers and letters sometimes seem to be upside down or sideways and she also admits to having trouble focusing and seeing different shades in color combinations.

But thanks to new technology like the equipment in the Assistive Technology lab at Arizona Western College, people with learning disabilities like Wilson’s now have a chance to overcome earlier setbacks.

As a child, she was thought to be mentally challenged because of her inability to read properly. This led to her to eventually drop out of high school.

She married not long after leaving school in the San Diego area and was content as a homemaker until her husband died 10 years ago. She had already gone back to get her high school diploma through the GED program before his death, but knew she needed more training now that she was living alone.

Wilson tried returning to college, but kept failing courses before she moved to Yuma and enrolled at Arizona Western College. The new AWC lab is allowing her and other students to move past their disabilities and turn them into abilities.

"Using the equipment at AWC this year, I retook a course I had gotten an 'F' in and I raised that grade all the way up to a 'B' and I think that is amazing," Wilson said. "The equipment pretty much allows me to scan everything I need to study into a computer which will then read it back to me so I can understand it."

The new equipment was unveiled at the beginning of the current semester and was showcased by both AWC and Northern Arizona University-Yuma Thursday in celebration of Disabilities Awareness Month throughout the nation.

Other equipment now used by students can translate books or Web pages into Braille for the visually challenged.

Dana Shaffer, coordinator for students with disabilities for AWC, said approximately 50 students from the two schools currently use the equipment.

"Equipment like this is usually only available to students at larger universities, so we are very lucky to be able to offer it here," Shaffer said. "This technology truly allows a student with disabilities to step up to the level of their peers at the college on a daily basis."

Wilson agrees, and wants other students with disabilities to take advantage of the services at AWC and NAU-Yuma.

"At AWC, the professors never look at a student with disabilities and see a problem student. They all work with us so we can see the possibilities we can accomplish,” she said.

"I would recommend this college to any student out there that has been afraid to come to college. This school really makes students like me feel at home and normal in all ways," she added.

Wilson will earn her associate's degree in education from AWC in May, but says she isn't going to stop there. "I am going to continue at NAU and get my bachelor's and master's in special education. I want to eventually work with students on the high school level."

She says she doesn't mind being considered a role model for disabled students. In fact, in 1985, she was one of the people who worked with the U.S. Congress on the Americans with Disabilities Act. "Years ago, people with my problem would have been institutionalized. I even spent time in the hospital in the 70s because my problems led me to a mental breakdown.

"But folks with learning disabilities do not have to be shy about trying to better themselves now. Schools like AWC and NAU are there to help us. I am taking advantage of it, and others can too," Wilson added.

Randy Reese can be reached at or 539-6855.

© Yuma Sun