We are taking the month of February 2016 to recognize four University of Findlay students who are dealing with a physical condition or disability. As one student said, “This is something I have. It does not define me. Never has. Never will.” As we present an article each week, you’ll come to learn what these students have in common. . . confidence, optimism, empathy and big plans for the future.
Jenna Vorst, senior marketing major, gets around campus on wheels. No, she’s not one of the growing numbers of bicycle riders. Jenna’s wheels are necessary for her mobility and not just an alternate mode of transportation.
“If people are curious about why I’m in a wheelchair, they only need to ask,” said Vorst. “I’ll open up to anyone. I’m an open book when it comes to my life and cerebral palsy.”
A group of chronic conditions affecting body movement and muscle coordination, cerebral palsy (CP) is the result of damage to one or more specific areas of the brain. It’s usually diagnosed before a child is 18 months old. In Vorst’s case, it was much sooner.
“My twin brother and I were born almost three months premature,” she stated. “Since the boys usually have more problems, everyone was more concerned about my brother. Ironically, he was fine and I was the one with medical issues.”
Her mother read about conductive education for people with CP, an approach developed by a Hungarian physician in the 1940s. From age 5 to the present, Jenna has spent summers “immersed” in a conductive education program located in Lima, Ohio. She feels it’s been extremely helpful, especially immediately after the sessions.
Despite the muscle spasticity inherent in CP, Vorst enrolled in every art class offered at Ottawa-Glandorf High School in Ottawa, Ohio, and has become an accomplished artist.
“I love art and I love creating things,” she added. She’s taken one class from Anne Beekman, assistant professor of graphic design, but actually has a minor in finance, hoping it will enhance her marketability. She also hopes to move to Florida after graduation to join her fiance.
“The thought of moving is exciting but also terrifying,” she laughed. “My entire support system is here in Ohio.”
By her own admission, however, Vorst doesn’t need a lot of support from others. Her car has been adapted to meet her needs, with hand controls and a driver’s seat that swivels. Two or three times a week she drives to Findlay’s Olive Garden where she works as a hostess and where she “loves everyone.”
Vorst likes to be included which is “why I came here,” she added, feeling that a smaller campus would allow her to become more involved. She has had few problems navigating campus, although there are some doors and a particular elevator button that she called “frustrating.” Most of her fellow students are nonplused by a classmate in a wheelchair, but a few still treat her differently.
“Like a few weeks ago I was getting fries in Henderson,” Vorst recalled. “This guy comes up and keeps asking if he can help me. I know he meant well, but I’ll ask for help if I need it.” She also talked about other incidences off-campus when she had been treated like a child. . . or as someone incapable of doing things for herself.
“It’s annoying when people talk down to you, or talk about you like you’re not there, but I don’t let it bother me,” she said. “As far as the wheelchair, I’m used to it. It’s just no big deal.”