This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

  May 13, 2002

Blind Student's Degree Represents
Triumph of Spirit Over Adversity
By John Wray

When Suzanne Westhaver receives her bachelor's degree in English at UConn's Waterbury campus, it will be a triumph of spirit over adversity.

Westhaver has diabetes and lost her sight to diabetic retinopathy at age 20.

But blindness hasn't stopped this remarkable young woman from achieving her goals.

Class of 2002
Suzanne Westhaver and family
Suzanne Westhaver, Class of 2002, second from right, who lost her sight at the age of 20, is joined by her husband Richard, son Jamie, and guide dog Nell as she receives an award from Rachael Lynch, associate professor of English, at the Waterbury Campus May 3.

Photo by Victor Schiavi

After she became totally blind, her mother taught her how to type so she could use a computer. Westhaver learned to read Braille. She learned to use a guide dog. And she learned to find her way using a cane. She also mastered the "Jaws for Windows" software that enables her to navigate through Microsoft Windows using the numbers keypad.

"Jaws" interfaces with many Windows programs and has a built-in voice synthesizer that "reads" Westhaver's e-mails and text documents to her.

Westhaver registered as a junior at the UConn Waterbury campus in the fall of 1997, having earned an associate's degree from Naugatuck Community College. But before starting her studies at UConn, she took six months off for the birth of her son, Jamie.

Rachael Lynch, an associate professor of English at the Waterbury campus, says she's never known anyone quite like Westhaver.

"This remarkable, articulate young woman, the mother of a four-year-old , got through her bachelor of arts program on a combination of intelligence, gumption, persistence, and very hard work, and with a GPA of 3.6," says Lynch.

Westhaver and her 11-year-old guide dog, Nell, a Golden Retriever, were honored at the Awards Night at the Waterbury campus on May 3.

Earlier in the week, Westhaver had an interview for a communications position with the American Red Cross.

The week before, she was in Washington with U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, who is sponsoring a bill called the Information Materials Accessibility Act that would make it mandatory for publishers to make their publications available to blind students as electronic files.

Says Lynch: "Suzanne Westhaver doesn't let her blindness prevent her from doing anything she wants to do."

Issue Index