Student eagerly faces challenges of life with a disability
Many might say that the odds have been stacked against Bill Austin from early on. Doctors once told his family that it would be impossible for him to see the age of twenty.
Despite a severe case of muscular dystrophy, Austin, now 49, is proving them all wrong. More than 40 years after the faulty prediction of those doctors, Austin has completed his lifelong goal of earning a college degree. Austin battles muscular dystrophy on a daily basis. The debilitating disease progressively weakens the body's skeletal muscles and has limited Austin’s mobility to five percent use of his right hand. This leaves him with just enough strength to operate the joystick on his motorized wheelchair.
"Life is something that should be loved and cherished by all," said Austin. "I'm not willing to let my disability get in the way of my dreams."
One of the major obstacles that Austin faced in his academic pursuits was an inability to properly utilize a computer keyboard. His disability made independent manipulation of the keyboard nearly impossible. At one point, challenges such as taking class lecture notes and completing homework in a timely manner also seemed insurmountable.
This situation improved when Austin met Gene Casey, a counselor in the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services (DRS). DRS provided Austin with tools that would make achieving success in the classroom and in the job world much easier. For example, Casey purchased a state-of-the-art computer system which allows Austin to perform every function of the computer using only his voice. This custom-built voice recognition system developed by NanoPac Inc. of Tulsa, gives Austin the ability to type homework and search the Internet at a tremendous rate of speed.
"This amazing computer has allowed me to type at more than four times my previous speed," said Austin. "On my previous computer I had to type my homework using a wooden kitchen spoon."
"Bill is tenacious in whatever he pursues, and I have no doubt that he will be successful in the workforce. It has been my pleasure working with him," said Casey.
Austin also enjoys pursuing his passion of the martial arts. Just as in his educational endeavors, Austin has not allowed his disability to slow him down during his 14 years of studying the art of Kung Fu. He currently possesses a third-degree black belt.
"I was determined to learn everything that any student learned, and I was taught like everyone else," said Austin. "My instructor would show me a form or technique, and I would have to drive the positions of the form in my chair while explaining the movements in great detail.”
Austin said he was tested on his knowledge of the art, and his ability to teach the complex techniques to other students.
"If you wish to become a good Kung Fu artist you must be able to love life," said Austin.
Austin plans to become a Certified Public Accountant. He believes that despite the many challenges that people with disabilities face, the future looks bright.
"As we continue in this new millennium, I see people with disabilities climbing to greater heights because of the efforts of organizations such as the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services," said Austin. “They are providing an opportunity for independence and equality that would not otherwise be available."
The Department of Rehabilitation Services annually assists approximately 87,000 Oklahomans with disabilities through vocational rehabilitation, employment, independent living and residential and outreach education programs. The agency also determines medical eligibility for disability benefits.
For more information about DRS programs and services, call (405) 951-3400 in Oklahoma City or (800) 845-8476 toll free. The numbers are accessible by voice or telecommunications equipment for the deaf.