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– UTEP Students with Disabilities Defying Expectations

Initially, Mikaela Reyes, a graduate student at UTEP, faced uncertainty about embarking on a study abroad program in Spain due to her Lupus diagnosis at the age of 16. Lupus, a condition where the immune system targets organs and tissues, resulting in inflammation, posed challenges for Reyes, occasionally necessitating wheelchair use and regular IV medication infusions. Despite these obstacles, with unwavering support from UTEP and her husband, Reyes managed to surpass expectations.

While the majority of students at UTEP lead conventional, healthy lives, there exists a segment grappling with disabilities on a daily basis. Whether coping with visual impairment, deafness, or undisclosed disabilities, these students affirm that with familial and institutional backing, they can surmount their hurdles at UTEP.

Reyes expressed reservations about pursuing graduate studies due to the demanding workload. Nevertheless, with empathetic professors and her resolute commitment to academic achievement, she is set to graduate this spring with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.

Reyes recounted undergoing shoulder, hip, and knee replacements during both her undergraduate and graduate studies, underscoring the invaluable support provided by the CASS program, particularly the understanding demonstrated by her professors. Despite initial apprehensions about the rigorous nature of graduate school, Reyes found solace in the accommodating environment that enabled her to even venture to Spain.

The Center for Accommodation and Support Services (CASS) at UTEP plays a pivotal role in assisting students with disabilities throughout their academic journey, offering services such as note-taking, testing aids, and document reformatting as needed.

Another UTEP student, Jonathan Vasquez, advocates for reshaping perceptions around disabilities, emphasizing that the term “disability” does not equate to impossibility. Vasquez, visually impaired since elementary school, navigated academic challenges with resilience, maintaining a steadfast determination to excel.

Vasquez attributes his academic success to his voracious reading habits, cultivated during prolonged hospital stays from a young age. His steadfast commitment to education has propelled him through college, with aspirations to pursue a career as a fiction writer or therapist post-graduation.

UTEP underscores the message that students with disabilities are not isolated in their journey. Whether through the supportive framework of the CASS program or the mentorship of professors, individuals with disabilities can thrive academically. Reyes encourages incoming students with disabilities to embrace their unique journeys without trepidation, urging them to leverage the resources available at UTEP, particularly the CASS office, to navigate their academic pursuits successfully.

For prospective students with disabilities or individuals seeking support, the UTEP CASS department remains accessible for assistance.

Sofia Sierra, the web and copy editor, can be contacted at