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Alexis Papalia is a Promise Scholar studying Political Science at Chatham University.

AND A SENSE OF HUMOR Alexis has a disability, but she doesn’t let that stop her from pursuing her college education… or playing practical jokes.

ALEXIS' ADVICE Alexis shares five tips for anyone with a disability. It’s okay to ask for help. Part of being independent is knowing when to ask for help. At the same time, don’t feel that you have to accept help you don’t need just to be nice.


aving a disability and going to college can be an interesting adventure, but with the help of The Pittsburgh Promise and a lot of people who wanted to see me succeed, it’s been an amazing journey for me.

protect my eyes. There were times that I got teased but I was usually the one making the jokes. And I had amazing teachers, friends and a vision teacher who taught me everything from how to use a cane to how to read Braille.

If I’m looking at the world optimistically, it is pretty unlikely I’d be born with my rare eye condition. If I’m not being so positive, it’s pretty unfortunate that I was born with a disease that would eventually make me go blind in one eye and lose some of the vision in my right. The good news is I lead a normal and independent life as an adult, even if I can take one of my eyes out (don’t worry, it’s fake!)

When I went to college there was a department to help accommodate me in any way I needed for my classes. I’ve gotten Power Point slides from professors on jump drives so I did not have to take notes from the projector I couldn’t see. I’ve also been permitted to take tests on a computer instead of handwriting them so I can zoom in if I want. I’ve found that almost every teacher wants to help as much as they can—sometimes a little too much, but I can forgive them for wanting me to learn.

I went to Pittsburgh Public Schools from Kindergarten through graduating high school, and I had a lot of interesting adventures along the way. There was the time in second grade just after I got my fake eye that it came out in class. My poor teacher was so freaked out that she sent me to the nurse’s office. Throughout school, all the other students were curious about the tools I used—magnifying glasses, white boards that transmitted what was written on them to a computer, or even the ugly sports goggles I had to wear in gym class to

While I attended the Pittsburgh Public Schools, I had an amazing vision teacher who brought me lots of equipment to try (some things helped, some didn’t) and helped me talk to my teachers about my needs. When I did go off to college she helped to connect me with the Blind and Vision Services and the Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services, both of which prepared me for the real world with technology, trainings and even help finding a part-time job. With their help and the help of The Pittsburgh Promise I am able to be successful in college, even if it isn’t always easy.

10 ideapod // SPRING 2014

Try not to take the people who look down on you or make fun of you to heart. Use them as motivation to try even harder.

Don’t feel like you need to have a “normal” life. Everyone has something weird about them- never feel like you have to suppress yours! Laugh at the little things; it makes everything easier.

The thing is, I can do most things pretty well on my own. I mean, I can’t drive—unless I can make just right turns the whole way—and I’m never going to be an astronaut, but I loved school and learning and with a little help, I’ve done that well. A lot of people say they don’t even notice I can’t see very well. That is, until I take my fake eye out and put it on top of the cherry on their milkshake (yes, I did this to a friend, at the age of 20…and it was hilarious). I know that sometimes being different makes people uncomfortable. I believe being “normal” is relative, and my disability does not make me any better or worse at being normal. I make great oatmeal cookies and I know all the words to “Lose yourself” by Eminem. I’m graduating college in May and I have an internship at The Promise office this semester. When I look back at my education, I know that it wasn’t always easy but I’ve had great support and I’m excited for what happens next.

IdeaPod Spring 2014  
IdeaPod Spring 2014