Advancing disability rights and leadership globally®

Taking a Different Path Together

Lucas with University of Minnesota golden gopher mascot
Lucas with University of Minnesota golden gopher mascot

Marta Bidoli, an EducationUSA adviser in Brazil, shares her experience championing for one of her students who encountered one obstacle after another.

Lucas Nadólskis walked into the EducationUSA advising center in Sao Paulo, Brazil to start the process of applying to universities in the United States. This was a longtime dream for Lucas, and he was determined to make it happen.

Lucas is blind and realized that traditional universities in Brazil would not accept him because they did not have the infrastructure to support blind and low vision students.

Throughout Lucas’ education, it was always important for him and his family that he be integrated in traditional schools with high academic standards. Lucas’ family hired professionals to train his teachers how to teach blind students so he could receive the same education as other students.

When Marta met Lucas for the first time, she saw his determination and she stayed focused on his goal. As Lucas came to the office to research and apply to different universities, Marta saw that many of the online applications were not fully accessible for blind students. So, she assigned an adviser at the office to assist Lucas one to two hours each week with the online applications.

Since Lucas was on a gap-year, he did not have any advising support from his high school administrators. Marta therefore stepped in and played many roles. She learned about what accommodations Lucas would need, such as extended time, braille, and use of a screen reader, for taking admissions tests like TOEFL and the SAT.

Unlike the TOEFL exam, the SAT is only administered for entrance to U.S. universities, and its procedures for requesting disability accommodations, for example, submitting proper disability documentation, are less clear. To further complicate matters, the CollegeBoard, which administers the SAT, required all correspondence to be completed by postal mail and not electronically.

“Lucas’ family does not speak English, and not having the document in an alternative format made it difficult for Lucas to read. He would usually have to find a friend to read any mail that was sent to him.”

Due to this form of correspondence, Marta and Lucas worked with delays in scheduling exams and keeping up with the status of accommodations. When Lucas finally received his “accessible” SAT, they discovered that the exam was in contracted braille, an unfamiliar form of braille for Lucas. Although, contracted braille is used in the United States and other countries around the world, it is seldom used in Brazil or many other Latin American countries, where uncontracted braille is the standard. There are software programs that prepare documents for embossing that can often be set to contracted or uncontracted braille. The CollegeBoard did not recognize this difference and Lucas could not receive the revised SAT within a reasonable time.

Lucas could not delay his exam due to university deadlines. Lucas himself, with the support of Marta and the EducationUSA staff, made arrangements to take the exam at an American-affiliated institution that teaches in English and has student disability support services. She also arranged for a reader to help Lucas with certain portions of the exam.

“Although having a reader was helpful, it was not preferred as it did not allow Lucas an equal opportunity for testing.”

After a long journey Lucas was accepted to his first university. Marta received the first e-mail notification of admission, and contacted Lucas immediately to see if he had received it as well. Marta was on the phone when Lucas opened it and read his email.

“This was a day that I will never forget and was one of the most rewarding because of all of our efforts together.”

Marta took additional, crucial steps when supporting Lucas.

  • Being honest: This was the first time that Marta advised a blind student or any student with a disability. She let Lucas know this from the beginning, so they could both learn together. When reflecting on advising Lucas and supporting his application process, Marta “knew that it would be challenging, but it was important to stay focused on knowing that we can achieve this.”
    • Contacting MIUSA: Marta remained confident with what she could give and provide, but also knew when to reach out for further professional advice. Marta contacted the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange staff, also sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, when she needed information on how to resolve the testing accommodation issues. Marta also found it valuable to learn about further opportunities for blind students and to learn about the disability laws and support in the United States for students with disabilities.
  • Staying with “Yes”: Most importantly, Marta stayed present with Lucas from the very beginning, and especially at times when Lucas felt stressed and tense. Marta was persistent and stayed focused on the “yes”. She advocated to universities, the College Board, and others, with Lucas involved in each step.

Staying driven and working through all obstacles, Lucas achieved his dream. He was accepted to six universities and chose to study Computer Science at the University of Minnesota. Before beginning his degree program in Minnesota, he went to the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, where he learned contracted braille and Nemeth braille for mathematics.

Marta stayed focused on the dream with Lucas, and let him know from the beginning, “you can go wherever you want, but you won’t always take the path you think you’re supposed to take to get there.”

The EducationUSA network is the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) official educational advising service with 400 advisers in 170 countries around the world who offer accurate, current, and comprehensive information about study in the United States.

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