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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

'It's OK to be different'

Friday, October 12, 2012

Janee Boever, from the City of Spencer AmericanS with Disabilities Act Council, visited the fourth grade class at Sacred Heart Catholic School with Rosie Osterberg, Denny Johnson, and Eric Erikson on the ADA's annual "Treva Johnson Tour."
(Photo by Kate Padilla) [Order this photo]
Representatives from the Americans with Disabilities Act began their annual Treva Johnson Tour at Sacred Heart Thursday morning. Janee Boever, with the City of Spencer ADA Council, accompanied Rosie Osterberg, Denny Johnson and Eric Erikson to speak to Michele Lauck's fourth grade class.

"October is Disability Awareness Month," Boever said to the class, "and each year we try to teach people about disability and improve accesssibility."

The tour is named after former Spencer ADA Council Chair Treva Johnson, who passed away in May.

Rosie Osterberg, blinded in her left eye from a schoolyard accident and in her right eye from a disease later on, demonstrated "cane travel," walking with a long cane to allow her to anticipate obstacles in her path. Though she used to cane travel regularly, she stopped once she began using a traditional walking cane to help with other health issues. She still keeps the travel cane for demonstrations.

Osterberg, 71, has not let her disability limit her. She learned to use a computer only a few years ago. To help her communicate, the computer speaks to her, telling her not only what letters she types on the keyboard but also dictating emails and web pages.

"I can communicate with the world," she said.

She continued. "I feel bad for others who are blind who don't want to 'get out of the boat and into the water.'"

Osterberg also plays the piano, organ and accordion. Her next challenge, she hopes, will be learning to play the Hawaiian guitar.

Denny Johnson has been on the ADA Council since its inception in 1992. In 1980, Johnson was canoeing down the Little Sioux River with friends. Though he didn't know the depth of the river, he dove in and consequently broke his neck. It took nearly an hour for his friends to get him from the site of the accident to the ambulance.

The accident left him paraplegic, and he had to relearn daily tasks that once required the use of his legs.

"I live alone," he said. "I drive, though I'm a terrible cook."

Johnson demonstrated how he wears gloves to keep his hands clean while he propels his wheelchair. In the same way that the students must replace their shoes after wear and use, Johnson replaces his gloves about three times each year.

Johnson now drives with hand controls, allowing him an independent life despite his physical limitations.

"I got pulled over about a month ago because the cop didn't think I was wearing a seatbelt," Johnson told the students. "My seatbelt has to run under my arm so that I can operate the hand controls."

In contrast to the other two speakers, Eric Erikson was born with his disability. His arms are shorter; he was born with four fingers on each hand and several bones missing from each arm.

Erikson was also born with a hole in his heart - the hole closed a little while later - and bands wrapped around his stomach. Until the age of 4, he was fed full meals 8 to 10 times each day, in order to keep him nourished.

In addition, Erikson suffered from a severe hearing problem, which affected his speech development.

"I didn't learn to talk until I was six or seven," he said. "I communicated through my brother, who was 18 months younger than me. I don't know how he understood me, but he did."

Erikson graduated from high school with his brother, and went on to earn a Bachelors degree in social work. He works at the Seasons Center, and comes home to his wife and stepchildren.

"I never learned to crawl," he told the students. "I went straight from scooting along on my butt to walking."

Though he'd been told "No" more times than he cared to hear throughout his life, Erikson's parents never allowed his physical limitations to deter him from an active life. Growing up, he rode his bicycle, snow skied, and showed animals at the fair.

"You think, 'How does the little guy with little arms lead a cow around?'" Erikson said. "It's like leading a dog after a while. They're pretty dependent."

All three speakers stressed to the students that to be disabled is far different than to be dis-abled.

"If you ever have a disability, don't ever give up," Osterberg said. "Someday, there might be an answer."

"It's ok to be different," Erikson said. "You don't have to be like everyone else."

In addition, the speakers noted that asking questions is ok, that a person with a disability does not mind others wondering how they go through life.

"Some things we take for granted without even thinking," Boever said. "It's ok to ask."

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What a great program. One thing I would like to mention, there are a lot of us out there with disabilities that you can't see, which makes it harder for people to understand the pain we go through on a daily basis, be it mentally or physically.

-- Posted by iowamom23 on Fri, Oct 12, 2012, at 10:58 AM

I met Eric when he was a boy. He played soccer for the youth team I coached and was the most fearless goalie I ever had. He also played little league baseball for me the following year,and was voted most valuable player by his teammates. Eric is a great example of where theres a will there is a way.

-- Posted by Randy Plagman on Fri, Oct 12, 2012, at 10:00 PM

i to have serveral disabilities mentally and i am ollso blind there can be some mean people but there are people who are nice i sometimes get mad at myself because i have to learn new ways of living sometimes it can be hard i just keep going on with a new adventure everyday

-- Posted by arlene stewart on Fri, Oct 12, 2012, at 11:34 PM

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