By Melissa Wolff
Jack Lopez, a 21-year-old senior, sits by himself at an extremely large round table in Hillwood Commons reading The Devil You Know before his shift at the Pratt Center. He wears white shirt, a pair of jeans, and a pair of sneakers. Visible on his arm was the recent tattoo of a cross that he got over the summer, which was black against his caramel colored skin. In Egypt the color black symbolizes life and the cross symbolizes faith reminding Jack that he wouldnít have been able to live his life without the deep faith he has.
ìThe next one [tattoo] Iím thinking about getting are the words ëout of orderí down both my legs. My friends think it would be cool and look great.î Jack was diagnosed with spina bifida at two days old and confined to a wheel chair since the age of 12.
The definition of spina bifida, according to Medicine Net, is ìa birth defect (a congenital malformation) in which there is a bony defect in the vertebral column so that part of the spinal cord, which is normally protected within the vertebral column, is exposed. People with spina bifida can suffer from bladder and bowel incontinence, cognitive (learning) problems and limited mobility.î According to Reisa Doyle, a Nurse Practitioner at the V.A. Medical Center, people with spina bifida can live a very productive life as long as they have a good support system.
Jack recalled a conversation he had with his mother years back. ìMy mom once told me a story of how when I was only a few days old, one of the doctors told her that I wouldnít make it past the age of five,î Jack explained. ìAnd if I did, I would never be a mainstreamed child. When I heard that story, it pretty much lit a fire under my ass and made me want to prove them wrong. To say that I was able to defy what an expert said about me would be one hell of an accomplishment.î
Jack beat the odds and he was offered an academic incentive of $10,000 to come to Post. He took it and now Jack holds a 3.0 grade point average. Jack plans to graduate in the spring of 2011. He currently works at the Pratt center answering phones, swiping I.D.ís and helping set up events.
Choosing to go to Post was not as easy for Jack as it might have been with the other students that attend. When looking for colleges, Jack had to make sure that the college he attended was handicap accessible, which Post is. According to Daniel Capalbo, Senior Assistant Director of The Learning Support Center, most buildings are accessible with a wheelchair as well as the classes. Some of the dorm buildings have elevators and others have single medical rooms for the wheelchair bound. Capalbo makes sure that if there are handicapped students, that they are given accommodations.
The shuttle bus can hold up to one person in a wheelchair and will stop anywhere, even if itís not at a designated stop, if a handicapped person flags them down. The only thing the student has to do to get these services is to identify themselves as handicapped to Capalbo and show documentation.
Jack recognizes that he is disabled but does not feel the need to use the handicapped services available. Being in a wheelchair for nine years, Jack has learned to accommodate himself.
When not in school, or working, Jack likes to play basketball and is even on a wheel chaired basketball team called the Nassau County Kings. He started playing not before but after being fitted for is first wheelchair.
At any moment that someone sees Jack, it wouldnít be the wheelchair that they see first. He is usually in the center of the crowd, surrounded by mostly girls. The girls do not seem to mind Jackís wheelchair and Jack said he has never had to worry about getting a girlfriend or driving her around.
Youíll find Jack behind the wheel of a 2004 Saturn Ion. The fact that he drives, Jack says, surprises a lot of people. But his is no ordinary car. Instead of pedals on the bottom of the car, Jack drives with a lever. It sits right under the steering wheel and it is connected to the gas and brake pedals. All Jack has to do is pull back on the lever to hit the gas and push down on the lever for the brake. Itís one of the many things his family gave him to make Jack feel more “able-bodied” than handicapped.
ìItís because of my family that I am the person I am today,î Jack said. “My family has always been right there with me, throughout everything.”