Students learn to ‘DO-IT’ despite disabilities
July 3, 2012
By Katie Larsen
This month, a handful of teenagers with disabilities will come together to participate in the University of Washington’s DO-IT program.
The DO-IT (which stands for Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology) program offers high school students with disabilities an opportunity to experience college life by taking classes, living in the dorms, being mentored and networking with other students with disabilities.
Joshua Schaier, an Issaquah resident and a senior next year at Skyline High School, will participate in the program for his second year in a row as a Phase 2 Scholar. Starting July 21, Schaier will live in the dorms for a week, attend lectures and labs, and continue networking with other students with disabilities.
To apply, Schaier had to fill out an application and write an essay about why he was interested and how his disability affects his life. Schaier has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. He has known nearly all of his life about the disorder.
“When it comes down to it, I’m just like you. I’m not defined by my disability,” Schaier said. “I don’t let it define me. I feel that my value as a person comes before any problems I have.”
After applying, the DO-IT Advisory Board then selects scholars into the program.
“The board considers an applicant’s interest and aptitude in college studies, motivation to participate in DO-IT, contribution to the diversity of the program and perceived benefit from program offerings,” Brianna Blaser, counselor and coordinator of DO-IT, wrote in an email.
Schaier’s mother Wendy Schaier learned about the program a long time ago and was waiting for her son to be the right age to participate. She said since participating last year, he is more self-confident and more interested in studying and academics.
The hardest challenge he faces daily is social situations, which don’t come as naturally to him as they do for others. It is difficult for Schaier to communicate with others and understand how they feel. However, he maintains a 3.7 grade point average.
“My disability hasn’t affected my performance,” Schaier said. “Part of that are the skills I learned at the DO-IT program.”
DO-IT focuses on math, science and technology fields, and emphasizes the use of computers and Internet to enrich students’ education.
“You get to learn what it’s like to live on campus and be responsible for yourself,” Schaier said.
For many scholars, it is the first time they have been away from their parents.
“Mostly, it’s about connecting with other people with disabilities,” Schaier said. “It’s nice to know you aren’t alone out there.”
Schaier keeps in contact with others from the program because it is important for him to know there are others he can talk to and relate about his obstacles.
“The program is aimed to increase the success of people with disabilities in challenging academic programs and careers,” Blaser said. “Helping individuals with disabilities gain access to technology gives them tools that make them more likely to succeed both in school and in their careers.”
It was a good opportunity to step out of his comfort zone and be put in situations he normally wouldn’t be in, Schaier said. He doesn’t know what he wants to do for a career but he is leaning toward journalism because he likes to write and research.
“If you focus on improving yourself, then you can do almost anything you put your mind to,” Schaier said.