Archive for the ‘From the Desk Of…’ Category

From the Desk Of…an artist

Tan Nguyen, Tutor
Disability Support Services
Gulf Coast Community College

As an artist and art major myself, this article, written in the Theater Blog, struck a personal cord with me.

As a once upon a time student here at GCCC, I started and finished my A.A. here as a Pre-Art major. As a quadriplegic, life as an artist was difficult at times; often physical limitations forced me to think outside the box in order to create projects that my fellow classmates only had to worry about what was literally in the box. Still, I used an aid to help me with the physical aspects of creating my art — she acted as the hands to my idea. The classrooms and the program was always open to me, encouraged me, supported me, throughout my time here.

In truth, my experience here at GCCC was such a good and positive one and at just a community college level, that it never occured to me that the same opportunities I had here wouldn’t also be offered at the University level. I mean, afterall, its a larger school with more funding, why wouldn’t the program be just as accessible.

That wasn’t the case when I toured the Arts Department at a Florida university. In fact, I felt inferior, closed in, and worse yet, I was made to feel that having me in the program was cumbersome, a hassel, and like there were enough artists out there in the world that the program wasn’t worried about whether little ole me ever became a part of their world. Perhaps one day I will go into it all in detail here, but for now, what is important is the impact that this visit had on me and my life in the arts.

I came home after that visit, both to my hometown and to GCCC, my home away from home. My wife and I proceeded to do research, sure that the treatment I received while visiting the university was an isolated case. We talked to other schools. We read articles in newspapers, journals, on the internet, in blogs. We talked to the professors in the Visual and Performing Arts department at GCCC. And what we found was…disheartening.

Most Universities have been able to get away with not having fully accessible buildings, and subsequently programs, in the arts for several reasons. Two of the most damning of these reasons meant fighting against a system so much bigger than me…in all, it just seemed hopeless. For one reason, many of the great universities boasting amazing art programs are old…really old. Like the university I toured, many have their art programs housed in buildings protected by historical preservation. While they have to provide a few accessibility options like automatic opening doors, they didn’t have to provide rooms that were large enough to fit a wheelchair accessible desk let alone fit my chair. Quite literally, one of the life drawing classes I toured at the university was held in a tourrette — a round room with no desks at all and space only large enough for students to sit on small stools lining along the wall and surrounding a stage set for a model in the center of the room. For me to participate in the class, I would have had to sit outside the doorway in the hall, like a peeping tom leacherously waiting to draw a glimpse of a model being oggled at by “real” art students.

A second reason for the inaccessibility…well, is it really hard after my account thus far to figure out why? There just aren’t as many of us disabled people out there attending school for the arts. The department chair of the university’s art department told me that in all her years of working at the university there had only been one other student to her knowledge that had been as disabled as myself in the program. Though the truth of it was, he was a paraplegic with full use of his upper body and a much smaller wheelchair than my own electric wheelchair. She also told me this as my wife helped push my electric wheelchair up a steep, gravel-lined hill that was the driveway to where the second life drawing class I would be taking as an art major there was held, housed inside of a converted, and again historically protected, church. My chair barely made the incline…my wife barely made it without choking the nice lady incomprehensibly making it clear to us that the university was not the school for me.

But if art is the thing that is created from inspiration, my life should be a font of it, should it not? Disability is as much a living breathing entity as we are. We write laws about it. We protect it. We protect those individuals with it. We define and don’t define ourselves by it. We create technology for it and because of it. We design homes and buildings and cars to accommodate it.

And we are up in arms when we see able-bodied actors playing the roles of handicapped individuals when handicapped actors who actually live those disabilities are looked over.

This past Saturday, Access All Areas, a symposium created by the Live Art Development Agency (Lada), examined disability and how live art lies at the forefront of disability art practice, thinking and theory. Lada works to support and develop the Live Art sector, its practices, discourses, infrastructure and audiences.

I wish I could have gone to this symposium, where Lada was so stringent about “refusing to divorce theory from practice, talking from doing.” As journalist Lyn Gardner so poignantly pointed out, “live art has always been about breaking the rules, so it’s particularly well positioned as a platfrom for disabled practitioners.” [Source]

I absolutely encourage you to read the full article, Access All Areas: putting disability centre stage. Click here to be taken directly to the article.

Within the article are not only the jouranlist’s own impressiosn of the symposium, but also spread throughout its entirety are links to the many works by artists seen there.

The symposium focused not only on the expression of disability art practice, but also on its marginalism in mainstream culture and how to create a context for work that ensures it is accepted as much as mainstream art and has equal legitimacy.

If you are interested head on over to Live Art Development Agency: Publications. Here you can see a collection of the many works the Agency has published over the years.

From the Desk Of: Restoration with a side of taxpayer money and the exemption of ADA

Tamara Nguyen
Tutor for Disability Support Services
Gulf Coast Community College

So here’s an interesting conundrum. Columbia city officials have recently undergone some fire after receiving complaints that the new Columbia dinner train receives support with taxpayer money, though the train is not handicapped accessible. Disabilities advocates have said that the train is breaking federal law by not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

dinner train

The Columbia Star Dinner Train in Columbia, Missouri.

However, Tony St. Romaine, Columbia, MO, Assistant City Manager, said that the train is exempt from federal accessibility laws because it is a vintage train. And though he conceded that there have been some retrofits, such as adding electricity, that the actual dining car is restored to its original splendor to provide its diners an experience of travel in that decades ago era. He furthermore said that “to make it accessible would basically ruin that experience.” [Source]

Though with a sentiment like that, its hard not to question then if simply because ADA didn’t exist forty or more years ago that its all right to recreate the same “experience” of inaccessibility and separation in an era where it does exist? That would be like walking into a “vintage” diner in Selma, Alabama and hanging a “Whites Only” sign on the front door and then adhering to that policy all so the city could “recreate the experience.”

Accessibility issues aside, Homer Page, chair for the Disabilities Commission in Columbia, brings forth even deeper issues; that is. should the city have invested public money supporting an inaccessible service for the community?

City official St. Romaine argues that what taxpayer money was invested into the construction and operation of the train, the city will more than get back in tourism revenue from the people who come to use the train.

Watch the actual news coverage video from KOMU 8 here.

Now, city officials have said that while it is too costly, and would “ruin the experience” to outfit the train dining car to be handicapped accessible, there are plans in the future, once this train has paid off, to create a handicapped accessible train. Though, after the remarks made earlier, to me that just sounds like a polite way of saying they will be building a train car for the handicapped that will continue to NOT ruin the experience of all the other train passengers sitting in the recreated era-appropriate train car.

But that does bring up something to ponder. If the point of recreating something in all the fine details that go into it to make whatever it is look historically accurate, does then adding the modern amenities necessary to making it accessible ruin the atmosphere of the vintage experience. Afterall, isn’t the point of restoration to bring that thing back to its original glory, which most likely means not handicapped accessible, unfortunately. And while not having that something be handicapped accessible may not have the same outwardly abhorrent statement being made as a “Whites Only” sign, it is nevertheless an underlying statement that granting accessibility to everyone is only important if aesthetics aren’t necessary.

And if we are at all considering that era-appropriate aesthetic should override the necessity to provide accessibility to all, then it is certainly arguable that something designed to be used by the city for its citizens and others should not be allowed to use all taxpayers dollars as it is openly choosing not to allow access to all of its constituents.

So what’s the answer to all this. I certainly don’t know. I do think that the situation was handled callously by city officials and made only worse with St. Romaine’s justification of aesthetic and placating with the promise of a future train car designed specifically for handicapped accessibility. Its a biting sting that could have been better delivered if perhaps had been consulted with the people of Columbia before the injury was made.

If you would like to see the dinner train that has caused such an uproar, you can visit its webpage here at

From the “Neat” Desk Of…

Tan is a Tutor for Disability Support Services at Gulf Coast Community College.

As a quadriplegic, I’m always looking for ways to help make everyday tasks easier, accessible, and, most importantly, allow me to be independent. One task I have yet to mater is filing. Keeping records is a part of adult life (or so my wife keeps telling me). From the bills we receive to the business cards we keep to the random notes, articles, and clippings we save, we all devise some system of storing; how well organized this system may be is another story.

For me personally, filing these things away in a filing cabinet keeps everything neatly organized but is often a mobility issue for me. The size and shape of my wheelchair often makes getting close enough to a filing cabinet yet leaving enough room to open drawers a difficult feat. Lacking the use of my triceps poses yet another problem for opening drawers with any heft — and trust me, paper does get heavy. And finally, the lack of dexterity in my fingers makes filing such a feat to accomplish that, I admit, I give up before the battle has even gotten underway.

I look to technology to help me make my life more independent. A piece of technology that makes a mobile persons life easier could be the difference in making my life accessible. That’s why I like the Neat Desk.

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercial for this handy-dandy desktop scanner and digital filing system software on t.v. If you haven’t, below is an informational video on what the Neat Desk does:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Neat Desk, posted with vodpod

Neat Desk How it worksBasically the Neat Desk is an office manager. Through the desktop scanner, bills, receipts, clippings, business cards, pretty much anything paper can be scanned using its top-loader trays. Even better is that the trays can scan in multiple papers at a time in a single batch. The digital filing system technology then searches your documents for key words with which it automatically organizes your documents for you. All documents are keyword searchable, making it as easy a few keystrokes away to find the documents or files you are looking for.

Full details of what the Neat Desk can do and how it does it can be read here or you can visit

With my own personal limited mobility, the Neat Desk provides a way for me to file, be organized, keep accurate records, and most of all I can do all of this independently.

From the Desk Of…

Tamara is a Tutor and DSS Assistant for Disability Support Services at Gulf Coast Community College.

Students who know me know that I go nowhere without my planner. Some keep diaries, others keep journals, I keep planners. Its my catch-all of daily life, to-do’s, gripes, quotes, doodles, and rantings of a mad-woman wrapped into a one year dated package. But while I am an obsessive compulsive micro-journaler, I don’t epect that everyone else is — try as I might to convert them.

Even still, one of the easiest ways to ensuring a successful college career is being organized. Many of you already use digital planners on any one of the many smartphones out there, but for my paper-n-pen kinda people, a hands-on planner just can’t be replaced by digital bits.

But one of the downfalls of a planner is that every year your perfect planner has to be replaced. I spend months — beginning around August — searching bookstores, office supply stores, boutiques, and countless hours online searching for the next year’s replacement. And though I keep my planner in my purse, for many students, carrying around yet another book, no matter how small or light, is less than desirable, and getting in the habit of carrying it around is often left to the wayside.

So here’s an option that is both affordable and customizable in so many ways.

DIY Planner and Calendar

Created by the graphic design husband and wife duo known as droplet on Etsy, the DIY Planner and Calendar allows you to choose the printed format and size that you desire. The planner/calendar is further customizable by its blank dates and open areas to write in the months. Essentially, for $10 you have a lifetime planner that’s as accessible as a printer away.

For full product details visit droplet on Etsy, or simply click here to go directly to the product’s page.

For the student with some knowledge, or a DIY weekend warrior attitude, the planner can fairly easily be made into a bound book, but for the student who doesn’t want an extra book to carry, or perhaps would like to have one of these handy planners in all of their class binders, the planner can be most easily printed out onto letter size paper of your choosing and inserted into a binder with simple three-punch holes.

DIY Planner and Calendar

The PDF contains all of the information that you need to print and make your own customized planner and calendar, and includes these 6 different page designs:

  • Monthly calendar page
  • Weekly calendar page
  • Notes page (2 versions)
  • Contact page

DIY Planner and Calendar

DIY Planner and Calendar

If you’re interested in this product or more, visit droplet at their Etsy store.

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