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Oberholtzer book coverAuthor of Because I Can Shares Inspiring Story

by Jennifer Post Stoudt

In Maria McDonnell’s “Literature and Disability” class, she and her students often discuss how we see and read about stereotypes and ideals relating to disabilities, when the truth, for everyone, lies somewhere outside of these preconceived images.

On Dec. 4, Janet Oberholtzer, author of Because I Can, showed the class the realities of living with a disability when she shared her inspiring story. “We are all capable of more than we give ourselves credit for,” she told the class.

Oberholtzer almost died in a 2004 accident that also nearly cost her her leg. Doctors didn’t know if she’d ever walk again. But on May 20, 2012, she completed a full marathon. During class, Oberholtzer talked about the physical and emotional pain she’s had to face. However, she said she has learned to adjust her mindset, which has enabled her to better adapt to the challenges before her.

During the semester, McDonnell said, the class reads mostly fiction and poetry relating to disabilities, but she wanted to add a non-fiction book this semester.  While the class has been examining the prevailing stereotypes and archetypes of disabled characters in literature, McDonnell said they have also been trying to find honest voices and experiences in order to examine these unrealistic portrayals.  

“Janet speaks honestly in her book and in person. She goes beyond the platitudes you’d expect to hear from someone in her situation and tells us that her life since her accident has been filled with pain, struggle, conflict, confusion, etc., but that she realizes that she has the choice each day of how to respond to her reality,” McDonnell said. “It’s that honest voice that I want my students to hear.” 

Prior to Oberholtzer’s talk, students Hannah Bratzler ’15, Ashleigh Dreher ’15, Jason Rice ’15 and Samantha Stetser ’13 (in absentia) presented a class project on “Writers with Disabilities.” The group examined writers ranging from F. Scott Fitzgerald, who suffered from dyslexia, to Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind.

“I want my students to write well, to read critically, to leave college with all the academic gifts of a liberal arts education,” McDonnell said, “but I also want them to find and nurture their true compassionate, empathetic, accepting, curious selves.”

For more about Janet Oberholtzer, visit www.mylegstory.com.