October 2012

Promoting Awareness and Wellness (PAWs)

Ashford University is proud to show you our PAWs. That is, our Promoting Awareness and Wellness initiative! Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.


People with disabilities constitute the world’s largest minority group. They are also the only group that a person can enter at any time in their life. There are 54 million people living with disabilities in the United States today. The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 13.9%, compared to 8% for people without disabilities (as of August 2012).

It was 1945 when Congress enacted a law to celebrate what was then called the "National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week." This legislation came at a time when there was little to no advocacy for individuals with disabilities. It took another 43 years for Congress to extend this celebration to the full month of October, and to change the title to National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Although this observation was held each October, it was not until the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 that broad-based disability-related discrimination was prohibited by law. July 26, 2010, marked the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the ADA (National Disability Employment, n.d.).

An Early Advocate for Change

Richard Pimentel had long known the meaning of hardship. Abandoned as a child, he grew up at an orphanage and was labeled “retarded” by a school guidance counselor. While he did not speak until he was six years old, he found that in his voice, there was power. Pimentel went on to show those who saw only limitations that they had failed to see his potential, and he won two national high school speech championships.

When Pimentel lost his hearing as an adult during his service in the Vietnam War, he recognized that he would be fighting a new fight for the rest of his life. Little did he know that his efforts would impact the lives of millions of Americans, and bring hope to so many. After his injury, Pimentel returned to the United States to attend college. He met Art Honeymann there, a young man diagnosed with cerebral palsy. One night, the two were told to leave a restaurant because a waitress thought Honeymann was “ugly.” The two refused to leave and were eventually arrested. This event launched Pimentel into action, reawakening his powerful voice.

Pimentel became an advocate for legislation that would eventually become the ADA, and helped design training materials for employers who would be facing a workplace newly integrated with individuals with disabilities. The story of Pimentel and Honeymann is so powerful it was later made into the movie Music Within (Dr. Richard Pimentel, n.d.).

Waves of Progress

Jesse Billauer loves surfing and has proven so with a dedication that few others have. In 1996, the 17-year-old surfing prospect was knocked from his surfboard into a shallow sandbar. The wipeout resulted in a complete spinal cord injury which left Jesse a quadriplegic.

Most people would count their losses and never return to the water again. Jesse did not quit; instead, he chose to use his experience along with his passion for surfing to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. After his injury, Jesse founded Life Rolls On, a non-profit organization that inspires others to see the possibilities beyond paralysis.

Today, when he is not working as a motivational speaker, he is dedicated to the foundation, actively working to provide opportunities to individuals who have been paralyzed. Billauer has been featured on many television programs, including Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, While You Were Out, and E! True American Story. His most noted appearance was in the 2003 surfing documentary Step Into Liquid, where he is shown fearlessly surfing with the support of his family and friends (Jesse Billauer, n.d.).

View his segment from the film below:

A Voice in the Darkness

There is a long list of individuals with visual impairments who have made names for themselves in the music industry; Art Tatum, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder quickly come to mind. An international symbol of triumph, Andrea Bocelli is also one such success.

Not born blind, it was as a child that he was injured while playing soccer and fully lost his vision. Before the accident, Bocelli had a great passion for music and learned to play piano, drums, and six other musical instruments. However, it wasn’t until two years after becoming blind that he was first recognized for his talents as a vocalist by winning the Italian singing competition, Margherita d’Oro.

Bocelli completed law school and worked for a time as a court-appointed lawyer, but his true calling was music. He submitted an audition tape for a singing gig that was heard by the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Pavarotti was more than impressed with Bocelli’s vocal expertise, and it turned out to be the beginning of a long and prolific career.

Bocelli has recorded 13 solo albums and eight operas, and has sold over 75 million albums, making him the greatest-selling classical artist of all time. In addition to this distinction, he has also been given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been made a grand officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Andrea Bocelli, n.d.).

Watch a video of Andrea Bocelli performing Ave Maria below:

These individuals are just a few examples of how people with disabilities have impacted our world. Their tenacity, advocacy, and talent are a testament to the abilities and contributions of people with disabilities. For more information on National Disability Employment Awareness month, and to find out how you can get involved, check out the National Disability Employment Awareness Month 2012 website.

Ashford University Student Spotlight – Candy de la Garrigue
Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice

Despite not having a college degree, Candy de la Garrigue, 51, had a lucrative career in telecommunications until 2005. Then, as she puts it: “One day I sneezed, and my life changed forever.” At 45 years old, that sneeze caused her to throw her back out – but it didn’t come back. She was eventually diagnosed with spinal issues, including degenerative disc disease, and deemed permanently disabled.

Says Candy, who was also diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, “I felt worthless. I had worked my entire adult life, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.” Her husband had an idea. “He said, ‘You’re the smartest person I know – don’t you think you should have the degree to prove it?’” laughs Candy. After earning her Associate’s degree at another school, she chose Ashford to get her Bachelor’s degree online.

It’s safe to say that this Oklahoma City, OK resident has never regretted that decision. “I haven’t looked back. Being an Ashford Saint made me realize that I am still a valuable member of society, with so much to contribute. I can contribute to society in different ways.”

This mother of a grown daughter and grandmother of three has enjoyed making personal connections with her Ashford classmates, many of whom have overcome challenges themselves. She also enjoys carrying on conversations with her professors even when discussion threads are over, saying, “They have all been engaged in our classes and extremely fair.”

Candy is especially enjoying her membership in Ashford’s chapter of the Golden Key International Honour Society. “Anyone who is fortunate enough to be invited to Golden Key should join; the opportunities afforded to Golden Key members are incomparable.” Candy also made the Dean’s List, and is hoping to join the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society when the time comes.

Along with Candy’s hard work and determination, various Ashford staff members have contributed toward her success. “My Admissions Counselor was extremely helpful in getting me settled into my classes. My Student Advisor, Jessalyn Freeman, goes above and beyond for her students. And my counselor at the Office of Student Access and Wellness, Andrew Anderson, was helpful in assisting me as a disabled student.”

With a goal of becoming an elder abuse investigator, Candy feels she’s well on her way. “I feel my education here is top notch – I couldn’t get better at my local brick and mortar university. I am learning everything I need to know to pursue the employment paths that I wish to pursue.” Along this journey, Candy has already inspired her daughter to return to college, and she hopes these lessons will rub off on her grandchildren as well. “I’d love for them to know that education is the key to having the life you want, as opposed to struggling.”

Due to graduate in June 2013, after which she is considering seeking employment with Ashford as an online instructor, Candy is enjoying every day of her studies for now. “I can’t imagine choosing to get my Bachelor’s degree with another institution. I would like to tell anyone who is considering Ashford that this is a great school. Being a Saint is the best!”


Andrea Bocelli. (n.d.) Retrieved on September 26, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrea_Bocelli

Dr. Richard Pimentel. (n.d.) Retrieved on September 26, 2012 from http://www.miltwright.com/_richard_pimentel/indexstory.htm

Jesse Billauer. (n.d.) Retrieved on September 26, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesse_Billauer

National Disability Employment Awareness Month. (n.d.) Retrieved on September 26, 2012 from http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/NDEAM.htm