Obergon challenges ULV diversity

Campus Times
October 9, 1998

photo by Alen Zilic

Along with more than 440 other new students, Daniel Obergon joined the diverse University of La Verne student body in the fall. Born in Mexico City, Obergon spent his last 14 years living in community of San Dimas from where he commutes to La Verne. Despite his visual impairment the 20-year-old soccer fan is inspired to became a Spanish translator and hopes to earn his bachelor's degree from ULV.

by Nune Gazdhyan
Staff Writer

He cruises the campus with a visual aid walking stick. Daniel Obergon, 19-year-old freshman, is legally blind.

Being the first in his family to attend college in the United States, Obergon said he is really excited. He is majoring in Spanish and hopes to work as a translator upon graduation.

"To my knowledge, ULV has accommodated students with lesser levels of visual impairment. Daniel is the first student we are accommodating with special equipment," said Cynthia Denne, director of student health services.

Obergon does not feel left out because of his disability; in fact, an observer would not even realize that he is blind if he did not carry his visual aid walking stick.

"When I got accepted to ULV, my mobility instructor came out here with me and showed me how to get around," said Obergon.

Vince Fazzi, Obergon's mobility instructor from high school, came out to ULV and guided him on getting around campus. With the help of his visual aid walking stick, he walks to his classes and around the campus on his own.

Obergon was not born blind, but he was born with hydrocephalus, which is the accumulation of fluid in the brain. Within 24 hours of birth, a shunt was inserted into his head to help drain out the excess liquid.

When Obergon was 5 years old, he was playing on a brick wall and fell down, hitting his head. The shunt was knocked out of place. At the time there were no immediate injuries, because doctors did not realize that the shunt was out of place. The misplacement of the shunt caused liquid to penetrate his brain applying too much pressure on his optic nerves. The pressure gradually contributed to his loss of vision.

By the time his parents and the doctors discovered that Obergon was going blind, it was too late for treatment. As a result, he was considered legally blind at the age of 5.

Since there was not much the doctors could do in Mexico City, Obergon's family moved to America in hopes of getting better treatment for him.

The doctors in America could not help Obergon as well. Despite the advancement of technology and the new surgical methods, his blindness is irreversible. However, his blindness is stable and does not progress.

Realizing that there was nothing he could do to see again, his parents enrolled him in a school for the visually impaired. At the age of 6, Obergon learned to read in Braille.

Obergon is the eldest of three. He has a younger sister and a brother, who both have normal vision. He does not consider his blindness as a disadvantage; in fact, he said that his blindness has made him a much more well-rounded individual because he is very open-minded toward others.

"I first saw Daniel at freshman camp; at first I didn't even realize that he was blind. Later on that day I found out that he is in my University 100 class," said Richard Rose, assistant professor of religion and philosophy.

Dr. Rose said that, in his University 100 class, which is a class geared to assist freshman and transfer students to help them get acquainted with the school, Obergon is very enthusiastic and eager to participate in class discussions and does not seem to feel left out because of his blindness.

According to Dr. Rose, the other students in the classroom do not feel intimidated or uncomfortable around Obergon.

"I really thought that Daniel would feel left out but he doesn't. He is very positive," said sophomore Alena Vlna, Orientation Week Leader and co-facilitator of Obergon's class.

The task of providing Obergon with all the proper accommodations is challenging for ULV, according to Denne.

Most of Obergon's books are in Braille or on audio tapes. For the few books that are not available in either of the needed forms, special accommodations are made at the Learning Enhancement Center, which provides him with a reader.

The University has also budgeted special equipment. On a loan basis, he has a Braille & Speak, which looks like a small laptop, allowing him to take notes during class in Braille. He was also loaneed a Braille printer, which can be attached to the Braille & Speak and print out Obergon's notes and papers in Braille so that he can review them.

In addition, an adapter printer has been set up at the Student Resource Center for him which converts Braille into text so that Obergon can turn in his assignments. There is also an order in place for a Manual Brailler, a device to help Obergon do math problems.

Denne said that ULV is new at providing special care for a completely blind student.

"We are learning as we go. It's really nice that Daniel is committed to education," said Denne.