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Rutgers-Camden Grad Leaves Campus Better Suited for Students with Disabilities
The first days of a college semester can be overwhelming. Consider the added stress of not only having to navigate the newness of a rigorous academic life, but the physical challenges of an unfamiliar environment.
Darlene Hemerka of Blackwood, who was born with cerebral palsy and uses a walker, faced those campus hindrances – including unstable brick footpaths and uneven pavement – and improved them for the whole campus, by founding the Coalition for Disability Awareness.
“Walking across campus I got frustrated because I found things to be inaccessible,” says the 2008 Highland Regional High School graduate. “At first I was not interested in doing anything about it, because I was just trying to get used to Rutgers. But then I realized the best way to make changes is to get involved.”
Hemerka speaks very highly of the support she received from the Rutgers–Camden Office of Campus Involvement and her faculty advisors of the student group that met on a weekly basis and hosted campus events like Challenge Day.
“There have been absolutely positive changes to the campus. I know it’s not just through the work of the coalition, but it’s just great to see things get fixed,” says Hemerka. The group made a video of problematic areas on campus, which many have since been remedied (http://vimeo.com/23661112).
Hemerka was also thrilled that a course, which she proposed, titled Access for All: The Psychology of Disability, was offered this semester. Aspecial topics course, it focused on the Disability Rights Movement in the United States, as well as specific disabilities.
Busy not just with improving the Rutgers–Camden campus, Hemerka also had an active academic life as a dual major in political science and urban studies and earned a perfect GPA. She also was selected for a competitive internship with the Philadelphia’s Mayor Office, where she contributed language on the ADA and employment for a now online supervisor’s manual.
In August, Hemerka, who graduated this past December, will begin the City Year Program working to reduce the drop-out rate of at-risk middle school students.
Media Contact: Cathy Donovan