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News Articles
Student's Study Abroad Scholarship Celebrates ADA Anniversary
Ready for Paris: Student wins Scholarship in Observance of ADA's 25th Anniversary
UTB Interpreters Help Hearing-Impaired Students
Graduate Overcomes, Lands Job
Four Students Share How They Manage
The Symphony of Triumph: Engineering Department Helps Music Student Achieve His Dream
Nothing Can Stop Them: Students Discuss Disabilities During 'In Our Shoes' Panel
Architecture Student Knows Importance Of Accessibility
Getting Beyond Impairment: Legally Blind Student Earns Eight-Week Internship in Dallas
Students With Disabilities Share Their Experiences
Deaf Culture Celebrated In Talent Show
Office Provides Services For Special Needs Students

Brownsville / Texas - May 20, 2015

Ashley Ramos 
Shortly before the end of the spring semester at The University of Texas at Brownsville, freshman Ashley Ramos received a special gift on her birthday – an email arrived with the good news that she had been awarded a scholarship to study abroad in Paris this summer.
The scholarship, one of 25, celebrates the 25th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990. Made possible by a partnership between the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) and Mobility International USA (MIUSA), the study abroad scholarships were offered to motivated and high-achieving U.S. college students with disabilities.
“I still can’t believe I was one of the 25 selected,” Ramos said. “Mr. Wilder [Steve Wilder, Coordinator of UTB Disability Services] suggested I might like to apply for this. Just like my parents, he has always been so supportive and has helped me throughout this past year. I worked hard on my essay that was required with the application, and now I will soon be flying to Paris.”
Ramos and another student in the program will live with a host family and take the Paris Metro to class at the CIEE Study Center, located on the Rue du Sentier in the 2nd arrondissement. The program, June 22–July 20, includes a weekend excursion to Prague, Czech Republic.
Ramos has a visual impairment called rod monochromatism, an eye condition that causes, among other issues, color blindness and light sensitivity. Until the age of 14, she had to wear red-lens eyeglasses.
“Things were kind of hard for me at school when I was younger,” Ramos said. “You know how kids can tease others who are different. I wore red glasses, and I couldn’t go out in the bright light to recess. Then in middle school I got red contacts, like I still wear now, and they are not noticeable. It was really life-changing to get those contacts.”
When Ramos changed from eyeglasses to contact lenses, she made another change, transferring from the local school in Mansfield, Texas, her home town, to neighboring Grand Prairie’s Dubiski Career High School.
“I was worried about not finding a career, and Dubiski had a good reputation, with its professional approach – no band, no sports, and students required to wear business casual attire,” she said. “Also, in my former district, people knew me as the girl with red glasses. I wanted a fresh start.”
Ramos did well in high school, and had her sights set on a big Texas university.
“But I’m a bad test taker, and that narrowed down a lot of universities that I wanted,” she said. “I was determined to strike out on my own and attend a four-year state school, and I am so grateful that I was accepted by UT Brownsville.”
Ramos and her father and one of her brothers met with Wilder when they accompanied her to orientation during the summer; and then her mother and two brothers drove her to Brownsville in August and helped her move into Casa Bella student residence.
“I really enjoyed living at Casa Bella,” she said. “I had great suitemates, one from Matamoros and one from Los Fresnos – she had a car, and we would go to the beach and to H-E-B; we did a lot of cooking together – I know we’ll be lifelong friends.”
Ramos thought she wanted to study business, but she had a change of heart during her freshman year. She found a free online personality test that revealed she was well suited for a career in occupational therapy.
“During my year at UTB, I saw there are a lot of options in medical fields, so I started to investigate,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something in a career that would help people, and taking that test helped me realize I am well-suited to be an occupational therapist.”
Ramos considered remaining in Brownsville and eventually going on to her master’s in OT from the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. However, she was encouraged by her parents to return to North Texas, and will transfer in the fall to Texas Woman’s University, with its long-established and highly regarded School of Occupational Therapy.
Her focus for the summer is to build upon her three years of high school French – and in the future, to learn several more languages.
“In many countries, people with disabilities feel inferior, and are not given the opportunities that we have here in the U.S.,” Ramos said. “After I get my degree, I see myself helping and mentoring students with disabilities – and being able to communicate with them in their own language would be ideal.”
For more information on Disability Services at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, contact Stephen Wilder at 956-882-7372, or Tonya Paulette at 956-665-7005,

Monica Gudiño / April 27, 2015 / The Collegian

Ashley Ramos
Ashley Ramos

Having a disability is not an obstacle for people to achieve their goals; everyone can have the same opportunities, and Ashley Ramos is living proof of that.

Ramos, a freshman business major at UT Brownsville, applied for a scholarship offered by the Council on International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, in partnership with Mobility International USA to go to Paris in the summer to take a French course at the Paris Center for Critical Studies.

“I always liked traveling so I wanted to see the world and just experience at least one month of traveling,” Ramos said Wednesday.

She applied for the scholarship on April 1 and received a letter of acceptance via email on April 14. She will be in Paris June 20-July 20.

The CIEE, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990, awarded 25 scholarships to students to enroll in the council’s study abroad programs. Ramos was one of those students.

“I hope to prove myself that … even being with a disability I can travel places and do things on my own, kind of like for myself to feel accomplished,” said Ramos, who is legally blind.

When filling out the application, a sponsor nomination is needed and Disability Services Coordinator Steve Wilder, whose department is under the Division of Student Affairs, helped Ramos.

“I hope students will be encouraged to take advantage of opportunities when they come up,” Wilder said. “Sometimes the difference between getting a scholarship or getting one of these opportunities and not getting one is just taking action.”

The scholarship is not affiliated with the University of Texas at Brownsville but Ramos will still be able to get credit for the course that she will take.

“It is a mind-expanding, life-changing experience to go overseas and to be exposed to different cultures, different language and different food, different architecture--everything is refreshing and different,” Wilder said. “And I am so happy for her that she is going to have this life-changing experience.”

Asked what she hopes students with disabilities will learn from her story, Ramos replied: “That anything is possible with motivation and determination. They shouldn’t put any limits … just basically build their confidence.”

For more information about the scholarship and the Council on International Educational Exchange, visit

Article from The Collegian


Melissa Montoya | April 14, 2014| The Brownsville Herald


From: Article from Brownsville Herald.


James Ponce needed some time to acclimate himself to his college lessons when he first arrived at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
The 24-year-old, who is hard of hearing, never felt the need to use a sign language interpreter in his high school classes.
“I had this mentality where I thought I didn’t need them,” Ponce said. “I can be like anyone else. Why do I need this special attention?”
That mentality changed after his first semester at UTB.
Ponce quickly admitted to himself that if he was going to be able to pass his courses he would need a sign language interpreter there.
“I was missing a lot of stuff,” he said. “My classes were not the same after high school.”
The smaller, classroom-style classes made way for auditorium-style courses at UTB, where he often missed questions other students were asking, he said.
Ponce is one of three UTB students who use the interpretation services the university offers.
Disability Services has two full-time interpreters and two other part-time interpreters on staff, said Julie Armendariz, a sign language interpreter there.
She and Maria Cabanillas, in addition to the part-timers, balance the courses of all three students, one of whom only takes online courses.
Armendariz said she took an American Sign Language course in college and was hooked from day one.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do from then on,” she said.
Cabanillas’ case was different.
She lost the hearing in her left ear at age 3, she said. When she was 8 or 9 a doctor advised her to learn to sign because eventually she would lose all of her hearing.
“I started learning the alphabet and the numbers but I got frustrated not long after,” Cabanillas said. “It was too hard learning a new language.”
Later in college at UTB, Cabanillas began going to a bible group that spoke in sign language. That’s where she picked up the language, she said.
Now when Cabanillas and Armendariz are deep in conversation, the two sometimes sign while they talk.
Admittedly, they said, it’s hard to stop even when they aren’t working.
“I love the language,” Armendariz. Said. “I love being able to express myself with the language.”
One of Armendariz’s most memorable moments was when she was given a sign for her name. People don’t name themselves; instead they are christened by someone within the deaf community. Cabanillas’s sign is the letter “M” for Maria set on her cheek with a circular motion that’s representative of her characteristically rosy cheeks.
During a recent class, Ponce, a psychology student, sat and listened to his professor, Jaime Cano, lecture about Sigmund Freud, Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner.
Cabanillas sat directly in his line of vision and signed while Cano spoke. Because Ponce is not deaf, he is able to listen to the professor and if he misses something he can double-check with Cabanillas, who is about five to eight seconds behind the spoken word.
Ponce prefers that Cabanillas use signed exact English, instead of ASL. ASL relays concepts, whereas signed exact English is a system where interpreters sign each word in the order they’re spoken.
Initially, Ponce said, it was a bit difficult to try to focus on two things at the same time, but he quickly got used to it.
He hopes eventually to become a licensed professional counselor who can help people who are deaf feel comfortable expressing their problems without the need of an interpreter.
And though he was once hesitant to seek the help of interpretative services, Ponce himself has begun working as an interpreter.
“People are mostly astounded,” he said. “They say, ‘How can you do that? Can you hear?’ They are amazed that I can do what I do.”
And that’s something he strives to do.
“I kind of advocate the famous saying that deaf people can do anything.”


Graduate Overcomes, Lands Job

Ana Cavazos | February 24, 2014| The Collegian

Ramiro Espinoza

Teamwork among Division of Student Affairs employees helped a hearing-impaired UT-Brownsville graduate land a job.

Ramiro Espinoza, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2011, was hired Jan. 8 as an information technology specialist by Codysur Inc., a trucking company located in San Benito.

Espinoza said his previous job hunts proved to be difficult, after going to several interviews and not being hired.

“I went through 15 different interviews, but nothing came about from those,” he told The Collegien in a video phone interview Feb 16.

In early January, Mario Torres, coordinator for employment relations for UTB’s Career Services Department, received a call from the trucking company’s human resources department requesting an information technology specialist who could start working immediately.

Diana Cardiel, an instructional specialist for the Office of Disability Services, overheard Torres’ conversation because both departments shared office space in Cortez Hall.

“I am like, ‘Oh my gosh, who do I know computer science, computer information, and I immediately thought of Ramiro,” Cardiel said.

She told Torres she knew someone who could fill the position.

“You know, Mario has a very larger-than-life personality,” Cardiel said. “I mean, it’s a small office, we work together. Because we are neighbors, I heard of the opportunity and it worked out.”

Cardiel then spoke to Sign Language Interpreter Maria Cabanillas, who contacted Espinoza and informed him of the job.

“Mary then contacted Ramiro via text message and then Ramiro contacted Mario via e-mail and then from there, you know, he got his résumé turned in right away and I think two days later, he got the job,” Cardiel said.

Torres said Espinoza’s qualifications fit the job description.

“I looked at the résumé [and] I think the résumé was an outstanding résumé, and I feel this person was just the right fit for the company,” Torres said.

He called the company and told them “I think I know what you’re looking for.”

After Espinoza proved to have all the skills necessary in the field, Codysur Inc. hired him.

Cardiel said it is hard for students with disabilities to find employment after graduation. She said they often get turned down by employers because of their disability, even if they are prepared for the job.

“I know that we have a lot of students that, you know, are out there. You know, they’re graduates, they’re perfectly capable to do the job but they don’t have that opportunity,” she said. “Nobody is really giving them the opportunity to work. They go to interviews and they get turned away because of the disability.”

Espinoza works with Codysur’s technology systems.

“I had to set up things and coordinate, as far as the e-mails with the systems, user names and passwords, new clients who are with the company,” he said. “I have to install hardware and software. I have to connect, really, everything—the server to laptops—and then also I manage the security for Internet blocks and things like that.”

Asked how he communicates with people at work, Espinoza replied: “Writing back and forth, or we use our phones, we text each other. We’ll actually stand face to face and text each other … and then also instant messaging as well.”

He also reads lips.

Espinoza is grateful for the opportunity given him by the company.

“I’m very comfortable,” he said of his job. “In the beginning I have to say I was quite nervous. I didn’t know what to do, but as time went on and progressed, then I felt very comfortable with the company. This is my first job, so I was initially nervous. And it’s a full-time position as well.”

Four students share how they manage
By Brenda Lopez - THE COLLEGIAN
October 28, 2013

Daniel Martinez
Arlene Laboy
Glenn Grissom
Ramiro Espinoza

Last Tuesday, about 50 people attended “In Our Shoes,” a panel presentation  in which four UT-Brownsville students spoke about how they manage their disability.

The event, which took place in the Main  Building’s Salón Cassia, was part of the university’s observance of Accessibility Awareness Week.

The panelists struggle with visual and hearing impairments, sleep apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Daniel Martinez, a senior education major, was injured in an accident, resulting in the loss of his vision. “Can you imagine yourself being a teacher, standing in front of the class and… the first thing you see is me. I’m a blind student … and you have no idea what to do.” Martinez said that professors get nervous because their perception of blind students is usually not a positive one. “They think because someone is blind they cannot read,”

Martinez said. “They think because someone is blind they cannot collaborate in the classroom, and that’s not always the fact.”

He said that because of the Office of Disability Services, he is able to participate in class. The department provides a document for Martinez to give professors which states that he is blind and needs accommodations to help him get through a course.

“I have access to the technology inside the classroom,” he said. “I have the textbook in an accessible format, either in Braille or in audio, or because I have a digital recorder that will allow me to take notes. All this and more help me be productive in the classroom.”

Martinez said that sometimes he struggles with the work in class because there are images on the board or the professor sometimes posts things on Blackboard, and he can’t see it.

Senior psychology major Arlene Laboy is a veteran who has post-traumatic stress disorder due a military experience that happened in 2005.

“I started school here in fall and [there were] very large classes,” Laboy said. “I started experiencing difficulties, especially during testing. So, that’s how I first contacted the testing center. I contacted Mr. [Steve] Wilder, and he let me know about some services that I could benefit from which I use today.”

She said these services have helped her with note-taking and during tests, she goes to a testing area so she can concentrate better. “I believe these services are great for us because it prevents us from getting discouraged and reaching our goals, just like anybody else,” Laboy said.

Laboy is the president of Veteran Females United and is trying to get additional services for veterans.

Glenn Grissom, a graduate student in biophysics, suffers from sleep apnea and narcolepsy. He is also satisfied with the program that is offered by Disability Services.

“I’m very thankful to the program that’s here,” Grissom said. “I think without it, school would be much more difficult for me. When I first got to UTB, I wasn’t aware of the program, and testing in some class situations were difficult. It was hard.”

Grissom, who suffers from migraines recently had surgery and has noticed some improvement.

“The migraines are mostly what causes my difficulties in school,” Grissom said. “Sometimes, I have to come to class. I can’t miss the presentations that the teachers are doing, and I might be on some medication that can help me to be able to deal with the migraine at the time or I might be in such pain that is just so difficult for me to pay attention.”

Grissom said that Disability Services informs his professors about his disability, so they can collaborate and help him. “Most of the responses that I’ve gotten from my professors have been pretty good,” Grissom said. “Most [of them] are more than willing to cooperate.”

He said that he’s had situations in which he wants to videotape professors, but some professors don’t feel comfortable being tape recorded, and he has to respect that. “I didn’t do the video recording, but I was still able to make it through the class,” Grissom said. “[The professors] helped me a lot.”

Ramiro Espinoza, a computer science graduate student, has a hearing impairment. “I had an interpreter, I had a note-taker, and I was able to get some captioning applied to videos I had to watch,” Espinoza signed. “Even if they didn’t have captioning on movies or videos, the interpreter was there. Sometimes, it was hard for me because when the instructor is lecturing and the interpreter is there, I was thinking ‘OK, how am I going to take notes?’ I figured I need somebody to take notes for me because looking at the interpreter and trying to pay attention to the instructor and write things down is quite difficult.”

Steve Wilder, coordinator of Disability Services, said about 250 students with disabilities attend UTB.

The Symphony of Triumph: Engineering Department Helps Music Student Achieve His Dream

Rick Saldivar | March 1, 2013| The Collegian

Student playing the piano

Senior music major Juan Torres tests the prototype of a device developed in collaboration with students from the Engineering Department that will allow him to play pieces that require the use of the acoustic piano’s pedals

A group of engineering students has created a device that will allow senior music major Juan Torres, who was born without the use of his legs, to play a wider range of compositions that requires the use of the acoustic piano’s pedals.Kenneth Saxon, an associate professor in the Music Department, approached Engineering Department Chair William Berg after searching for possible solutions for Torres to be able to use the piano’s pedals.

“Juan Torres went to high school in Brownsville—he went to Lopez. He came to UTB and he was a student of Ms. Mina Kramer. When Ms. Kramer went to Dallas, he became my student,” Saxon said during an interview with The Collegian. “The pedal is a fundamental part of the piano. One composer said the pedal was the soul of the piano and Juan had always played it beautifully but he did not have access to the pedal and I dreamed that one day we could somehow provide that idea.”

After acquiring some ideas from the Internet, Saxon presented the challenge to Berg, who presented the project to then-freshman engineering students. 

Saxon explained that the piano, which was first made around 1709, is similar to the harpsichord. But unlike the harpsichord, which plucks the strings, the piano hammers the strings. At the time the piano was developed, the pedal was not an important part of it.

“… But as the technology developed, the pedal became an important part of the piano. … Composers started writing compositions that required the pedal,” Saxon said.

He said Torres had been limited to performing selections from the first 100 years of piano music, which did not rely entirely on the pedal.

“I wanted him to play all of the piano music and for that he would need the pedal,” Saxon said.

Ever since Berg presented the project to the engineering students, Michael R. Espinoza, a junior engineering physics-bioengineering major, and other students have been working closely with Torres to perfect a device that will allow him to easily play a wider range of music. 

“There’s a couple of people involved,” said Espinoza, who is the group leader. “It started in the fall of 2010, [and] it started off with Dr. Saxon practicing with Juan. They had the idea and Dr. Saxon came over to the Engineering Department, talked to Dr. Berg about the whole project idea and Dr. Berg from there presented us freshmen this project.” 

Although the group has gone through four major stages in their project, Torres had already tried another device found by Saxon on the Internet.

“It was like a seatbelt and it was controlled by your air,” he said. “When you breathe out and breathe in, you lose a lot of energy, air, and it had to be a lot of extra work. It reacted pretty fast, but I was not comfortable. It was only for electric pianos. It was not for acoustic pianos.”

Since then, the engineering students and Torres have developed different devices that led to their latest prototype. 

“We’ve gone through a couple of different devices where like one of them was just some two-by-fours nailed together suspending this motor type of thing,” Espinoza said. “Right now, we’ve actually just finished working some tweaks on the shop. That’s what we’re going to use to present in the concert we’re going to have on April 4th. We’re going to make sure to have backup systems and everything like that.”

Espinoza explained that the prototype consists of a few main parts.

“There’s one big main piece of it and that gets positioned at the main pedal of a piano. ... Basically, this device is positioned there and works with a motor that presses the pedal,” he said. “The part that interacts with Juan is a receiver, which receives the signal from a wireless remote controller that he wears. This remote control is connected to a bite switch, which basically looks like the end of a pen, and whenever Juan bites the switch, it closes the circuit and it tells the pedal ‘OK, push …’ depending on whatever Juan needs for a certain section of the music.”

He added that the bite switch was found on a parachuting website. Parachutists use the bite switch when they skydive and take pictures as they fall. Conceptus, the company that makes the switch, donated one to the group after they described their project.

Torres is thankful to Espinoza and the Engineering Department for their help.

“You can play the piano without a pedal, but not a lot of pieces,” he said. “There’s some composers, like Mozart and the Classical and Baroque eras, where you don’t need the pedal, but once you come into the Romantic era or the 20th century era, there you need a pedal because there’s a wide range of keys where you need to sustain a key, while you’re playing other keys. … When I wanted to play Romantic music, I couldn’t play it because I needed the pedal. It was essential to play it.”

He explained that the latest device created by the group has allowed him to play music that he could not play before and how much of a difference this will have in his development as a pianist. 

Torres’ upcoming concert featuring classical music at 7 p.m. April 4 in the Arts Center will debut the group’s latest prototype. Admission is free. 

Nothing can stop them

Students discuss disabilities during ‘In Our Shoes’ panel
by Viridiana
Zúñiga - The Collegian - October 29, 2012

Four UTB/TSC students shared the daily challenges of having a disability with an audience of students and faculty during a panel discussion last Tuesday.

 The 12th annual “In Our Shoes” panel, held in the SET-B third-floor conference room, addressed the situations students with impediments have to overcome every day.

 Yvette Villarreal, an accounting freshman, was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. This learning difficulty primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling, according to the website

 “It is overwhelming when it comes to tests, when it comes to learning,” Villarreal said. “… Teachers would help me with more time with tests, modifying the tests. … I was transposing numbers, the word, the letter, but I was getting my subjects. I knew what I was doing; I just was learning it differently, at a slower pace.”

 When Villarreal was told that going to college was a waste of time and money, she thought that she would have to try twice as hard.

 “I said, ‘All that I need is a little bit of help,’” she said.

 Panelist Bryan Abanilla, a management senior, has macular degeneration, a chronic eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of the field of vision.

 “Everything is blurry beyond 2 or 3 feet, after that I can tell sort of what the object is, but definitionwise, I can’t tell what it is,” Abanilla said.

 He was diagnosed at age 6.

 “I grew up kind of in what I like to call the ‘technological black ages,’ which basically were just pen and paper,” Abanilla said. “So I would always get a big black marker and paper and just write it giant; that’s how I would learn.”

 Today, he uses a video magnifier, or closed-circuit television system (CCTV), to read texts in books and computers.

 “As far as life in the university, everything has gone pretty smoothly,” Abanilla said. “… My case has been pretty smooth, according to the plan. Everything worked out how it was supposed to work out, and so I was very fortunate in that aspect.”

 Asked by Chamberlain how life in college is different from high school, Abanilla replied: “In high school everything’s done for you, your exams, everything is set for you in the classroom. In college it’s kind of like, ‘All right, [Disability Services Coordinator] Steve Wilder is somewhere, go find him and talk it up, and see what he can do for you.’”

 Daniel Skaines, an exercise science sophomore, took a moment to honor a friend who died that same day in the battlefield in Afghanistan.

 “I’m a little different from some of the people here, because I wasn’t diagnosed with anything when I was little,” Skaines said. “What I suffer from is more a mental illness or disorder called PTSD, which is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and TBI, which is Traumatic Brain Injury.”

 While he was in the U.S. Army, Skaines was injured in combat several times, but he did not experience any changes until he went back to college.

 “I recently realized that some of the things I used to be good at, like math, I used to be very good at math, I’m not so good at it anymore,” he said. “Because I suffer from a short-term memory deficiency, if you tell me something, I remember during our conversation, but, if I walk away from that conversation, chances are I’m going to forget it.”

 Skaines said this condition affects his schoolwork and personal life.

 “Sometimes, I get angry faster than I should,” he said. “I don’t have outbursts or anything like that, but I internalize it and I carry that with me.”

 Eric Torres, a computer information systems and web design junior, has a hearing and speech disability. He uses American Sign Language to communicate.

 “I have an interpreter, so sometimes the interpreter also helps to clarify material that I don’t understand,” Torres said through an interpreter. “If I’m struggling with something, they are able to explain it to me to a different level.”

 Steve Chamberlain, an associate professor in the Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies program, said the purpose of the panel discussion is “to give several of our students an opportunity to share their stories.”

 The stories are fascinating,” Chamberlain said. “Basically, when we talk about students with disabilities at a college level, what we try to focus on is access. I think access is the key word.”

 The event was part of the university’s observance of Accessibility Awareness Week. Wilder said there are 350 students with disabilities on campus. He said the department provides these students the accommodations needed for their education.

in our shoes 


in our shoes 

“Senior management major Bryan Abanilla (left) offers a humorous anecdote about his experience living with macular degeneration.”


in our shoes 

“Freshman accounting major Yvette Villarreal details her struggles with dyslexia and how it has affected her studies. ”


in our shoes 

“Sophomore exercise science major Daniel Skaines describes his experience in the U.S. Army and living successfully with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ”

Architecture Student Knows Importance of Accessibility

by Cheryl Taylor

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – OCTOBER 22, 2012 – Juan Treviño became interested in architecture when he attended Brownsville’s Porter High School, where he took some design classes before graduating in 2009. When the time came to declare his major at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, however, he selected English because he also enjoys writing.

Because he is a wheelchair user, Treviño is assisted by a family member who attends classes with him to help with tasks such as meals and setting up books; otherwise he is quite independent. 

“When my classes were on the Fort Brown campus, I occasionally needed help from the Disability Services Office,” Treviño said. “That would be to ensure I had the right kind of desk in my classrooms or something of that nature. Out here, the architecture rooms have adjustable desks anyway, so there’s no need for any special accommodations.”  

Steve Wilder, Coordinator of UTB and TSC Disability Services, said his office is responsible for assisting any student who might need an accommodation in their classroom.  

“This is Accessibility Awareness Week at UTB and TSC,” said Wilder. “We strive to be a welcoming campus for students with disabilities. Everyone on campus, from faculty and administrators to staff and students, has a role to play in creating an accessible and disability-friendly environment. The focus is on the abilities, not disabilities, of our students.” 

Accessibility Awareness Week activities begin on Tuesday, Oct. 23, with a panel presentation, “In Our Shoes.” Other events include the AAW Fair where the campus community is invited to actively “experience” dyslexia and visual impairment, learn some basic signs and see their name in Braille. Activities continue throughout the week, topped off with the 6th Annual ASL Talent Show on Saturday, Oct. 27. 

For Treviño, the call of architecture never waned, and with most of his basic courses out of the way, he chose to enroll in the two-year program that prepares students to transfer to a school of architecture. 

“I should have all my architecture classes finished by next summer,” Treviño said. “Then I’ll decide if I want to continue with it or go back to English. I’m still interested in developing my writing, so we’ll see.” 

The Architecture Program is located in the International Technology, Education and Commerce Center(ITECC) at 301 Mexico Blvd., where the 27 students in the design studio recently presented their latest projects, proposals for a community garden. Viewing the presentations were representatives from the city of Brownsville and local residents who had been encouraged to attend. 

“We are always looking for ways our students can develop their skills in real-life situations,” said Dr. Murad Abusalim, Architecture Program Assistant Professor. “In this case, we partnered with Brownsville’s Parks and Recreation Department to design – and help construct, when the time comes – this new community garden in our city.” 

One of Trevino’s responsibilities in his group was to create the graphic model for the final presentation. 

“I enjoyed working on this project,” Treviño said. “In the process I learned a new computer program for architectural drawing that allows for detailed texturing and finishing touches that bring the elevations to life and really enhance the presentation.” 

For more information on the UTB and TSC Architecture Program, contact Dr. Murad Abusalim at 956-882-8868 or  

For more information on the Office of Disability Services, contact Steve Wilder at 956-882-7372, or

Getting Beyond Impairment: legally Blind student earns eight-week internship in dallas

Posted on September 3, 2012

Legally blind student earns eight-week internship in Dallas | By Marlane Rodriguez - The Collegian

Miguel Angel Roberts/Collegian Senior management major Bryan Abanilla uses Zoomtext software, which enables him to enlarge whatever is on the computer screen. Abanilla, who is legally blind, served an eight-week internship this summer at a Dallas company.

Across the nation there were 2,770 student candidates interviewed for the Workforce Recruitment Program. Of these, 600 were hired by various businesses, including senior management major Bryan Abanilla, who is legally blind. The program, run by the Labor Department and the Defense Department in Washington, D.C., sends a recruiter to universities to interview students with disabilities. The qualified students enter a pool of applicants who hope to be hired as a summer intern. “Companies will select you according to what they need and your major,” Abanilla said. Abanilla was selected by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service in Dallas as an allocator for eight weeks this summer. “Basically, I placed orders for merchandise,” he said. “I also tracked the orders, making sure it left the vendor on time and it shipped on the day it was supposed to be shipped.”

Abanilla was familiar with the company. “I knew about the company, I liked what they did,” he said. “The interviewer overall just liked me, and all the qualifications that I had.” Abanilla worked in the Children’s Softlands Department and will work there full time after graduating in December. The business major said he enjoys managing. “It’s one of the things that makes sense,” he said. Aside from going to school full time, Abanilla has been working as a clerk in the assistive technology lab of UTB/TSC’s Disability Services Office since January.“I monitor students who are taking tests and I pick up exams and deliver exams for professors,” Abanilla said.

Diana Cardiel, a learning instructional specialist for Disability Services, works with Abanilla on a daily basis as his supervisor. “Bryan is one of our students, and we approached him about working with us because of his good character,” Cardiel said. “He is a very responsible young man and we thought he would make a great addition to our team.” She said Abanilla was chosen for the internship because of his major. “His work is slowed down because of his disability, but it does not stop him from achieving anything,” Cardiel said. “With accommodations, he is able to achieve any job that anybody else can.” Disability Services Coordinator Steve Wilder has known Abanilla for five years and enjoys working with him. “I think he works hard, he doesn’t let his visual impairment get in the way,” Wilder said. “He is intelligent, he’s a smart student, and of course, his major is business and that’s what he is especially good at.”

Wilder encouraged Abanilla to apply for the internship because he is a student who has a goal in mind. “He has kept on track-- good grades, good completion rate, very responsible,” he said. “Bryan comes across as confident, as alert, as purposeful, as someone who can get the job done, and all those impressions that an employer might get are true because that is the kind of person he is. “He’s very reliable, you can count on him to do whatever he says he’s going to do; we trust him implicitly.” Abanilla said blindness is in his genes, and when he was 6 years old it kicked in. He was diagnosed as legally blind by a doctor in Houston. Because of his vision impairment, Abanilla said reading is his greatest challenge. He uses a program called Zoomtext, which enables him to enlarge whatever is on the computer screen. “It magnifies the screen to make it four times larger, five times larger,” Abanilla said.

When he is not working or studying, Abanilla enjoys playing the ukulele and drums for St. Mary’s Catholic Church every weekend, which he has done for the last 10 years. He looks forward to living in Dallas after graduating.


Students with disabilities share their experiences

Posted on October 24, 2011

By Viridiana Zúñiga

Spanish Editor

MIGUEL ANGEL ROBERTS/COLLEGIAN Alison Brady, a junior music major, describes her academic success despite having Asperger’s Disorder during the panel discussion titled “In Our Shoes,” held last Tuesday in the SET-B third-floor conference room. The event was part of the university’s observance of Accessibility Awareness Week. Also shown are (from left) Jennifer Larrasquitu, a senior psychology major; Manuel Paredes, a sophomore criminal justice major; and Ramiro Espinoza, a senior computer systems and technology major. 

Last Tuesday, four UTB/TSC students shared the challenges of having a disability and their achievements in spite of it.

Held in the SET-B third-floor conference room, the “In Our Shoes” panel discussion was organized by the Disability Services Department, with the aim of offering a glimpse of the demanding situations a person with a physical or mental impediment has to overcome every day.

“Most of us don’t know how it’s like to be in the shoes of someone with disability,” said Disability Services Coordinator Steve Wilder.

Steve Chamberlain, an associate professor in the Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies Department, served as moderator for the presentation.

Ramiro Espinoza, a computer information systems technology major, has a hearing and speech disability. He uses American Sign Language to communicate.

“I struggled in my early education because there is a lot of vocabulary that I was not familiar with, and also, I was not very motivated,” Espinoza said through an interpreter. “In high school, I decided that I needed to understand the English language and I started reading for a hobby, which improved my reading skills.”

Chamberlain explained that Espinoza uses interpreters in class.

“The interpreters are extremely bright and intelligent because, although they are not computer science majors, when they go to advanced computer courses they have to interpret technical information to Ramiro ... and that is tough,” he said.

Alison Brady, a junior music major, is one of the first students with Asperger’s Disorder, a milder variant of autism, to attend UTB/TSC.

“Most of my friends are music majors who don’t have any disability,” Brady said. “Also, my professors help me to succeed with good grades; so far, I have 64 credit hours.”

Brady encouraged students with disabilities to ask for help.

“We can be as successful in what we like as any other person,” she said.

Manuel Paredes, a sophomore criminal justice major, was diagnosed with dyslexia in high school.

“Before I was diagnosed, I thought I was below average intelligence, then, the world opened up to me,” Paredes said. “I learned study techniques for each of my classes; I have a sixth-grade reading level, so I ask someone to read a book for me or I use a tape recorder in class to understand better.”

He said, occasionally, people close to him forget he has a disability.

“I misinterpret words, or I say one thing but I mean another, and my friends laugh because they think I am serious about it,” Paredes said.

“There are days when my dyslexia is more noticeable and is like Murphy’s Law: Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

Senior psychology major Jennifer Larrasquitu is visually impaired.

“My eyes are very sensitive to light, I see better in darker places,” Larrasquitu said. “But the only thing that I really can’t do is drive.”

Larrasquitu said she is lucky her vision is not degenerative.

“I do things like sitting in front of the class or having a book really close to my eyes to read it, but it does not affect me more,” she said.

After the panel discussion, Chamberlain invited the audience to participate.

Betty Guerrero shared that two of her five children have dyslexia.

“It is frustrating because it affects their self-esteem a lot,” Guerrero said. She thanked Paredes for sharing his experiences and said he was an inspiration for her.

The eighth presentation of “In Our Shoes” concluded with a round of applause for the four students.

“The public’s response has been very positive,” Wilder said. “We always receive congratulatory comments from the audience and they applaud the conviction and success of our students.”

He said there are 450 students with disabilities in UTB/TSC. All of them receive accommodations and some no longer need assistance.

Deaf Culture Celebrated in Talent Show

Deaf Culture Celebrated in Talent Show
By Luciana Morales / Collegian
Staff Writer

Publication date, November 2, 2009

Talent Show
Manuel Reyna/Collegian
Staff interpreter Patricia Palomino, with assistance from Dede Weeks, performs Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit “I Will Survive” during the ASL Talent Show Oct. 24 in the Education and Business Complex’s Salon Cassia.

An impersonation of President Barack Obama, two superheroes, dances, song mimes and a number of comedy sketches and personal testimonies delighted the standing-room-only crowd at the American Sign Language Talent Show

The event, held Oct. 24 in the Education and Business Complex’s Salon Cassia, concluded UTB/TSC’s observance of Accessibility Awareness Week, which included a panel presentation, a fair, an open house and exhibits at the REK Center and two screenings of the disability-themed movie, "The Soloist."

Disability Services Counselor Steve Wilder said more than 230 students turned out to both showings of "The Soloist."

"I thought the week went very well," Wilder said. "The whole idea was to celebrate abilities, to talk to ourselves about how respectful we are about all of our students with different abilities and disabilities and to showcase what can be done, what is being done, what they can do and what they are doing to achieve."

Interpreter Coordinator Rosemary Landa estimated that about 140 people attended the third annual American Sign Language Talent Show.

"We are coming together to celebrate the ASL language, to celebrate the deaf culture," Landa said the evening of the show. "It’s like a big powwow to reinforce the idea that deaf people and hearing people are equal."

The show, which served as a fundraiser for the Sting ’em Sign Club, consisted of 19 acts, with jokes by master of ceremonies Eric Martinez in between. Staff interpreter Julie Armendariz translated for the audience.

Sting ’em Sign Club Vice President Isidro Ramos’ comedy acts included jokes about hearing aids and a smart-aleck interpreter. The freshman drafting major was admittedly "very comfortable and enthusiastic about performing in sign language."

"Sometimes the deaf have a hard time at school and we are here to support each other and encourage each other," Ramos said. "We don’t want to put sign language down; we want to be proud of [it]."

Landa’s father, Emigdio Linan of San Benito, also performed onstage. He narrated how he met the woman to whom he has been happily married for 34 years.

"I came from San Antonio many years ago and when I moved here in 1979, I noticed that there were no interpreters and nothing going on for the deaf," Linan, who is deaf, said after the show. "I am so glad to see this happening for the third year."

His wife Carol also performed in a comedy sketch.

"Our daughter works here, so that’s how we got involved," Carol Linan said. "There’s nothing like this in the Valley, so it’s really special."

Landa encouraged UTB/TSC students to learn sign language.

"If [you are] interested in sign language, go ahead and be involved," she said. "Also, if [you] have a deaf person in the classroom, don’t be afraid to speak to them, they are just like any other student and that’s what we hope to promote."

Freshman speech pathology major Florencia Gracia, who attended the show, agreed.

"I think more of the hearing students should be involved, see everything [deaf students] are able to do," Gracia said. "They are no less, we are the same."

Freshman special education major Daniel Martinez is blind and aspires to be a teacher for the blind and visually impaired.

"People without disabilities need to be aware that disabilities can occur to people like them," Martinez said in an interview during the Accessibility Awareness Fair on Oct. 21. "Even though they are getting through a disability like I did … there’s enough [support to] succeed."

Wilder said about 400 students are registered with the Disability Services Office this semester, which represents an increase of 5 percent over Spring 2009.

"I think more people are being more honest with themselves and less timid about coming into the office," he said. "We are happy to help, but we don’t want to stigmatize either; we want them to succeed."

Wilder said about a third of the registered students get accommodations or help of some kind in their classes, such as extra time for tests or interpreters, if they are deaf.

"About two-thirds of the students wanted to let us know of their disabilities when they first came to college," he said. "Yet they manage, which is good because [people] like to be independent."

Wilder sent a message as well to UTB/TSC students: "There are certain ways that come up occasionally that everybody can help. … Don’t park in the handicapped parking spaces when you don’t have a disability--that’s one of the complaints we receive sometimes."

He also suggested students share their notes taken in class with impaired students who have trouble listening to the professor and taking notes at the same time.

"That’s a way they can volunteer right on the spot, right in their own class without going out of their way," Wilder said.

Source: The Collegian

Office provides services for special needs students

By: JOSÉ BORJÓN / The Brownsville Herald

October 7, 2007 - 11:17PM
From: Article from Brownsville Herald.

Steve Wilder remembers how different Texas Southmost College was when he first began working there as a counselor in 1987.

Two decades later, the school is an equal partner in The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, which has seen dramatic growth. With that growth, came the creation of Disabilities Services for students will special needs.

“I started out with the counseling center doing general counseling (and) advising and have become specialized in disabilities services,” Wilder said, adding that his office sees more than 350 UTB-TSC students.

Each student’s needs vary, depending on their disability, he said.

“The largest group has learning disabilities,” Wilder explained. “For people with learning disabilities, it’s not uncommon for them to just need a little more time for taking tests.”

He is housed at the Disabilities Services Office in the old Lightner Student Center. His office is specially designed to accommodate special needs students.

“We also have testing rooms where students can take tests by themselves, in a distraction-reduced environment,” Wilder said. “We have assistive technology that can help in the sense that a student who has trouble reading can put a book or a handout on a scanner and the scanner will read it out loud.”

Wilder and his staff look for a student’s “best learning channel,” and focus on that.

“(We) use that and (try) not to dwell on where the difficulties are — everyone has abilities,” Wilder said. “When we started there was no such thing as this lab, there was no counselor.”

Before Disabilities Services came to be, TSC officials were just “trying to handle it as it came along,” but the service was not good, “for those students who needed (more),” he said.

Colleges and universities throughout the nation have struggled to better serve students with learning disabilities, Wilder said.

“There was not too much knowledge about learning disabilities, not much talk about attention deficit disorder,” he said. “Not much interest in psychological disabilities like bipolar illness.”

At the end of the 1980s, there were no deaf students at TSC.

“Last fall, we had 21 deaf students,” Wilder said, all needing American Sign Language interpreters. “It varies from semester to semester. This semester we have 14.”

A few years ago, UTB-TSC hired three professional American Sign Language interpreters, who accompany deaf students to class and facilitate communication.

“Everything the teacher says, everything the students say in class has to be interpreted,” Wilder said. “And then when the students want to express themselves it has to go through the interpreter.”

He strongly believes that any person, including those who have learning disabilities, can succeed in college and graduate.

Tests, requirements and expectations are the same for students with disabilities.

“We are not going to water down courses or dilute requirements,” Wilder assured. “So you know a student with a disability usually has to work harder.”

His job is his passion, and he admits he enjoys helping people who want to be helped.

“I like fostering their independence because I don’t want them to rely on us,” Wilder said. “When students come in as freshmen, sometimes there’s that sort of left-over habit of being accustomed to being helped as they were in high school.”

Wilder paused for a minute Friday and remembered how Disabilities Services first started.

“In terms of growth that I’ve seen, I used to be one counselor in a little office with no help,” he remembered. “And then we got an assistive lab and they put us in a few study rooms in the (Arnulfo Oliveira Memorial) Library.

But still that wasn’t “very accessible.”

About four years ago his office was relocated to the old Lightner Student Center.

“As you can see it’s at ground level,” he said of the offices. “We were able to build our own testing facility. You can see that we really have a very nice arrangement.”

He now has six full-time employees and counts an army of about one dozen part-time employees to help meet the growing demands of students with disabilities

“I love working at UTB,” he admitted, calling it a “great place with wonderful leadership.”

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