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Region 3 News

Students with disabilities can thrive on college campuses

University of Oklahoma sophomore Ricarda Urso, 20, keeps her calendar filled.

There's the volunteer work, including serving as a mentor for Young Life ministries, and working at least 20 hours a week at Taco Bell.

And then there's the full class load at OU, where she's a pre-med major. Ricarda admits the full schedule can be a bit much.

"It gets crazy sometimes," she said.

When she was a child, cerebral palsy affected the right side of her body. In a video about a scholarship for Taco Bell employees, she tells of the pain she endured during physical therapy, getting her right leg to function normally.

There were many trips for treatment at the Shriner's Hospital, and that experience led her to choose health care as a career field.

"They really made an impact with me," she said. "I knew I wanted to be a pediatrician and help children. It's my passion."

That same video describes the problems her single mother had making ends meet for her and her two brothers living in Noble.

Jobs at Taco Bell in Norman helped. Her employment also led Ricarda to explore scholarship opportunities with the restaurant chain through its Live Mas Scholarship program.

Ricarda applied and eventually met Jennifer Walker, senior manager of the Taco Bell Foundation.

"She is a very remarkable young lady and will be part of a new generation of leaders," Walker said.

Walker said Ricarda gave speeches to executives, as well as franchise owners in Florida and southern California. Ricarda called both speeches an "awesome" opportunity.

Walker said she didn't even notice the cerebral palsy when first meeting Ricarda.

In her video, Ricarda talks about climbing a mountain. Attending the spacious campus at OU hasn't been a problem for her either.

"OU is great," she said. "I have wonderful advisers. I'm so happy that I get to share my story with other people."

Finding support

Sharla Weathers is director of disability support services at the University of Central Oklahoma. She said all colleges have employees tasked with promoting equal access to educational opportunities for students with disabilities. Weather said her job encompasses students with physical and mental health challenges.

"A student, because of seizures may miss two to four days, and we have to make sure they can make that time up," she said.

Some students might need help to understand a professor, whether it's sign language or a computer voice dictation system.

Recently Weathers had to reschedule final examinations for some students.

Laura Powell is one who has benefited from the work of Weathers' office. She said she has been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and test anxiety.

"I prefer to take my tests in the DSS (disability support services) lab to reduce my stress level and help me focus," she said. "DSS works with me and my professors to assist me in succeeding in my education."

Powell knows some people might be skeptical as to whether her condition warrants such attention.

"Most people who haven't been diagnosed with these issues fail to understand how truly debilitating they can be, at times, so I really appreciate DSS supporting me when comes to finding solutions in some classes," she said

University of Oklahoma sophomore's story can be found at link below: