About three years ago, Louisiana State University student Gabriela McCall Delgado started a website for American college students with disabilities.
"I had the idea for a website in high school, but I didn't act on it then," said 22-year-old, Puerto Rico native Delgado in a telephone interview. "I was trying to find a disability-friendly college and learn what resources were available to me. However, I couldn't find a place online with all the information I needed."
As a youngster, Delgado was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and a learning disability that made reading very difficult. Louisiana State accommodated her disabilities by providing her with a notetaker and giving her extra time to take exams.
She said, "College would be more difficult without the notetaker. I think I could pass my classes, but my GPA would be lower. The accommodation is there to help me do school to the best of my ability."
After attending a 2008 conference sponsored by nonprofit group YP4, she received a $1,000 grant, a video camera, and some technical support to help get her website idea off the ground. Her website address eventually became weconnectnow.wordpress.com. Its goals are to provide college students with disabilities access to relevant news, blogs, personal stories, information about government resources, government laws and regulations, and opportunities for contacting other college students with disabilities. The fledgling website has received more than 50,000 hits since 2009.
"We have job listings, which is the most visited part of the site," said Delgado. "College students with disabilities want to know where they can get a job or an internship."
One offshoot of her virtual organization has been the creation of local We Connect Now chapters at Hofstra University and Illinois State University, with others in the planning stages, including one at Louisiana State.
She graduates in August 2011 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. Soon after, she will start graduate school, seek part-time work with a nonprofit organization, and continue developing her bilingual website for college students with disabilities.
What does she like most about her website? "Reading email from people saying how useful the website was and the satisfaction of seeing its growth," she said. "We have links now in 50 states and foreign countries. Also, I think it's really cool when students send us stories about their own experiences."
Facebook: "Disabilities by Daniel J. Vance" [Blue Valley Sod and Palmer Bus Service made this column possible.]
Daniel J. Vance is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC).