Jackie Newman, a senior natural resources major, proposed several projects to the agriculture department to improve wheelchair accessibility in three different campus facilities on Friday.
Newman, who turns 29 in November, was born with a dislocated right hip, severe scoliosis and was diagnosed with central core disease, a neuromuscular disease which affects all the muscles in his body.
Newman has had two back fusions and six hip surgeries, all of which failed due to his lack of muscle structure.
While Newman can still move and feel everything, the disease makes his muscles very weak.
“Since I was old enough to use a wheelchair, I’ve been in one,” Newman said. “But that hasn’t phased my life at all.”
Newman, who is pursuing a degree in agriculture, was raised on a farm and grew up helping his family sell crops.
“I used to help my grandma sell vegetables out of our garage,” Newman said. “I used to be the kid that would carry everything to people’s cars.”
With a natural resources degree, Newman has gained more understanding of agriculture, focusing on wildlife, plant science, soil science, livestock and forestry.
He said making life accessible for people with disabilities is his passion and chose to focus on accessibility for his senior project.
Newman spent the past two years working for the Disability Resource Center on campus, learning the struggles others face on campus, which was an eye-opening experience for him.
“It’s helped me grow as a person, and made me realize there’s a bigger world than my world and my struggles,” Newman said.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, 200,000 farmers in America each year are disabled or incur an injury. Missouri ranks second in the nation for farmers with a disability.
Newman said while Missouri State is great at making most of its facilities accessible, there are three places he would like to see some improvements.
Newman targeted Pinegar Arena in the Darr Center, the campus garden and Shealy Farms, all facilities used frequently by the agriculture department.
Newman wants to lower one water fountain, lower one locker, add a door opener to the front door and remove the curb near the bovine lab to increase accessibility at Pinegar.
At the campus garden, Newman wants to add a stone paved path for wheelchairs to roll on, more handicapped-accessible parking and lowered work stations.
At Shealy farms, Newman wants to repair the currently caved in wheelchair ramp, fully extend the rails on the stairs and add a ramp to the back door.
Newman suggests the Agriculture department invest in an ADA van, which would allow disabled students to participate in field trips.
“Not every disabled student has transportation,” Newman said.
William Mcclaine, assistant professor in environmental plant science and natural resources, has had Newman in several classes.
“He’s a great student,” Mcclaine said. “He’s very hard working and thoughtful.”
Mcclaine said Newman is a problem-solver and navigates his disability incredibly well with little need for accommodations.
Mcclaine said he has noticed some classmates try to do things for him.
“It drives him crazy,” Mcclaine said. “He’ll let you know if he can’t reach something and then he’ll ask for help, but otherwise assume he can do it.”
Mcclaine said he thinks the worst thing you can do to someone with a disability is to treat them differently.
Mcclaine thinks overall MSU does a great job of making its facilities accessible for disabled students.
While funding has not yet been finalized yet, Newman hopes MSU or Agrability will pay for the projects.
According to Agrability’s website, their vision is to enhance the quality of life for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with disabilities, so they, their families and their communities can continue to succeed in rural America.
Agrability often works with campuses and individuals to help students and farmers by donating assistive agriculture technology.
Newman is on the president’s council for disability, a group formed by President Smart to focus on making MSU more accessible for faculty and students with disabilities.
“We brainstorm ideas and ways of making things more accessible on campus,” Newman said.
Newman said one recent significant change was the addition of 44 handicapped-accessible parking spots around campus.
“Things have been getting better--- a lot of changes have been made,” Newman said.