Monday, May 08, 2006

Spotlight: Super Achiever Profile

New Blog Face:
A very special thanks to Madeline Schwartz who took on the task of updating my blog and giving it a much needed face-lift. How she finds the time and energy to do all that she does is unfathomable. I'm certain you will agree with me when you read her profile below.

I met "Maddy" through our team where we both serve as coordinators. Maddy designed our 'Swappies' blog and all of us were extremely impressed with her talent. So, a short while ago, I gave Maddy a phone call, crying out for her help! My blog was in pretty bad shape and Maddy jumped right on it. I wanted to just share Maddy's inspiring story with you, because it is truly an AMAZING one!!

BAYSIDE, NEW YORK – While Madeline Schwartz has severely limited physical capability, it has put no limits on her achievement in life. Graduating this January, Madeline Schwartz has overcome five medical misdiagnosis to obtain her degree, helped change legislation regarding disabled access to educational texts, and recently been elected. She married her husband Mark last year and is currently learning her third language. As Madeline herself says, 'I am proof that the mind is the most powerful tool of all.

Speaking earlier this year at the annual reception for Queensborough Community College’s External Education Program for Homebound Students, Madeline turned to the words of the woman she has turned to as a role model again and again when things get tough, Oprah Winfrey. These words help, but don’t fully explain, her success in overcoming the astonishing obstacles she has faced the last decade 'Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity,” Madeline said. 'Don’t fight them. Just find a different way to stand.'

Schwartz certainly has faced immense challenges in her life, and yet has emerged standing, receiving her diploma in Business Administration from Queensborough Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY) this January on her way to the CUNY’s Baccalaureate program for her four-year degree.

Madeline was born in Puerto Rico and came to NY in 1994 seeking medical treatment for an as-yet undiagnosed ailment that has left her with limited physical capability. She has had five misdiagnoses since arriving, including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) due to the rare symptoms of her ailment. Although she operates a power wheelchair using gross motor function of her shoulder muscles, she has little to no use of the fine motor function of her hands and no use of her legs. However, she has never allowed the situation to change her personality, keeping her positivity and mental strength throughout.

She was determined upon arriving in New York to return to college and finish her degree, regardless of her debilitating physical ailment. She learned about The External Education Program for the Homebound at Queensborough at Brooklyn College, where she met Carol Schaeffler, Director of the YAI/Premier HealthCare Center for Assistive Technology at the College who has become Madeline’s mentor through her college career. Madeline researched and found that The External Education Program for the Homebound at Queensborough was the only program of its kind available.
The Program, run by Director Merrill D. Parra, meets the higher education needs of individuals with disabilities who are unable to leave their homes to attend classes on a college campus. Nearing its thirtieth year, this program has become a national model.
Through the program, hundreds of homebound individuals residing throughout the greater metropolitan area have earned certificates and degrees, some without ever coming to campus. Homebound students are admitted to the college on the same basis as all Queensborough students and must fulfill the same requirements for degree.

'I started with easier classes,' she explains, 'two a semester. Then, once I was acclimated, I moved up to three or four a semester. But,” she adds, 'I still had to take microeconomics like everyone else. Nobody rides for free!”

'Madeline has been an inspiration to every student in the program, and to us all,' says Ms. Parra. 'Her drive and ambition, mixed with her love for life, have led her to so many breakthroughs and achievements through the time that I’ve known her. She has never let her physical ailments keep her from achieving her dreams.'

Unable to use her arms, Madeline uses a head mouse with an onscreen with word prediction to type her papers, as well as utilizing Dragon speech-recognition technology. The Homebound program provides computers, video conferencing, softboards (Where as a teacher writes on a board in a physical classroom on campus, she can follow perfectly from home, also saving the material and studying at her own pace) and other types of telecommunication technology to communicate with students directly from the classroom.

While her physical disabilities do challenge Madeline Schwartz, they don’t stop her from heading full steam ahead, both achieving personal goals and working tirelessly for change for everyone who lives with disabilities. 'I have come to understand how powerful anyone, and in this case students, can be when we are organized for change,' Madeline says. “It is especially important for students with disabilities to be organized and have a voice. This, of course, is not always easy as students with different disabilities have different needs. We are most certainly not one homogeneous group.”

To that end, Madeline is Vice-Chair of the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities and President of Queensborough’s Homebound Student Organization. The CUNY Coalition was created to be a lobby and a voice for CUNY’s disabled student population. “It’s not easy to advocate for yourself,” Madeline says, adding that disabled students are more likely to feel isolated and overlooked than the general student population. She has also served as the President of Queensborough Student Organization for several years and as a Homebound mentor.

Schwartz was instrumental in a campaign that helped pass E-text legislation, which has made textbooks available in alternative formats for students with disabilities. 'The computer is essential for my career and future success because it opens up doors to independency for a person who is physically disabled,' she wrote in a letter to Senator Hillary Clinton, working to get the legislation passed. “The problem that I am currently facing is that I am unable to have complete access to my books for college.”

She attempted to get her books on CD or have them scanned, but it wasn’t always successful or practical, and publishers were often unwilling to provide digital alternatives to published books. 'I have had to ask my home health aide to turn the pages for me to be able to study, which is terrible,' Madeline explains. 'Therefore, I have often had to memorize every page number just to be able to review the pages, making my situation very difficult.'

The problem had a very simple solution, but that solution involved the changing of legislation, never an easy task. Still, Chapter 219 of the Education Laws of 2003 was conceived, so that it is mandatory for publishers to provide digital versions of educational texts. 'I believe that people with physical difficulties should have the same rights as everyone else,' Schwartz says, 'especially when my purpose is to be somebody useful in society and to be a part of society.' She has also recently testified at City Hall regarding CUNY access for disabled students.

In a speech she gave as President of the Homebound Student Organization at Queensborough, she reminded the audience that 'we don’t have to wait until we graduate to do great things,' urging students to join organizations that fight for causes and speak out until heard. What drives Madeline to do all this, when most agree that dealing with her physical ailments would be effort enough? 'It would be boring to do nothing with my life,' she says, firmly, adding 'I’m kind of a people person' with an infectious laugh.

What the future holds for Madeline is CUNY’s Baccalaureate Program, where students work one-on-one with CUNY faculty mentors, creating their own areas of concentration. Students may take courses at any CUNY college, including The CUNY Graduate Center, The CUNY School of Professional Studies, and the City College Center for Worker Education and are encouraged to pursue independent research. 'Again, I return to Oprah’s finding your center of gravity quote and learning how to stand differently,' Madeline says. 'Since I have difficulty attending any one campus physically, I have found a better way, by attending them all,' she says. Ms. Schaeffler from Brooklyn College will be her mentor.

How does Madeline utilize the little spare time she has? Not by watching television, which she hates, although she was featured on both CUNY TV’s 'Study with the Best' program and on a WABC TV news segment on technology for the disabled. Among her many pursuits, she has been working to help design a Spanish language program for Computer Vision and Voice, a company which provides assistive technology solutions in the New York tri-state area. She attends physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy while taking care of her treasured cat, Camille, and her husband, Mark, who was a neighbor in her Brooklyn building. They married in October, 2003.

Her ultimate goal? She is interested in a career in the travel and tourism industry, and fully intends to walk again. 'With help from everyone at the Homebound Program, my disabilities have become abilities, making everything reachable for me. I am proof that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it.,' Madeline says, hoping that her story will motivate others of all shapes and sizes to never give up. 'As I said, the mind is the most powerful tool of all.'

Maddy's Photo:
View Maddy's Beautiful Smile In Her Photo Here

Swappies has a Slogan, "It's All About Who You Know". I feel truly honored and privileged to know a person of this caliber. If you just have no time to create, update or maintain a blog, contact Madeline Schwartz for help at, she accepts Paypal for payment.

Today's Quote:The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.
- Arthur C. Clarke

To Your Ultimate Success...

Christine Range