YELLOW SPRINGS, OH — Only a few years ago, Arlie Ray, Jr. would have been hard-pressed to even consider a college degree. Without even a high school diploma, he had been getting by until he hit a major setback. Ray had lost his job and family—everything important to him.
“I had gotten a divorce and I went back to live with my mother. I was in this tiny bedroom with nothing,” Ray said. “If I hadn’t met my fiancé, I’d still be there with nothing.”
Ray, 44, who is legally blind, had a love-hate relationship toward school that began in childhood. He hated being in special classes for the blind, but, after begging to be mainstreamed, the experience left him even less than excited about the educational environment. Likewise, he had few feelings of advocacy for others with disabilities.
When Gina Berry became his girlfriend about four years ago, Ray said she was surprised to find out he had not graduated from high school. She persuaded him to take the GED test. When he finished with one of the state’s 10 highest scores, she challenged him to go to college. Ray enrolled at Clark State Community College and recently transferred to Antioch University Midwest where he has completed one semester.
Once anything but a crusader, Ray was chosen among one of only six people from Ohio to serve on a special National Federation of the Blind (NFB) team that traveled to Washington, D.C. in late January to lobby Congress on behalf of people with disabilities. NFB teams from 48 states were involved in the effort.
“I’m not surprised by Arlie’s selection to represent the Federation,” said Mary Ann Short, Core Faculty Chair. “In class, I find him to be inquisitive, determined, and willing to address the hard issues; qualities that would serve anyone on Capitol Hill.”
The team met with several congressional representatives from Ohio on behalf of three laws being considered at the national level. They include the TEACH Act (Technology, Equality, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act), ACTA (The Air Carrier Technology Accessibility Act), and The Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act, about which Ray is most passionate.
He said most don’t know that “sheltered workshop” employers can petition the federal government for a waiver certificate that allows employers to pay sub-minimum wages to people with disabilities under the pretext that such labor is uncomplicated. Some sheltered workshop laborers receive as little as 63 cents per hour, Ray said. This bill would require a three-year phase out of the certificates so that persons with disabilities would be paid at least minimum wages. Ray has a theory that many employers and others in society have an inherent bias against people who have disabilities that is taught to us in subtle ways.
“Look at a few childhood stories: the villain in Peter Cottontail had a prosthetic tail, right? The other reindeer shunned Rudolph because he was different. All of Batman’s villains are people with disabilities,” said Ray. “What’s so great about Batman? He can only fight people with disabilities!”
Ray’s tongue-in-cheek attitude belies how serious he is about pursuing a career helping others with disabilities. He feels a degree will add the credentials he needs to impress human resource representatives. As a consultant, he already serves as a liaison between
job seekers with disabilities and human resource administrators.
“You have to get past the HR guy who has trouble seeing beyond the cane or the wheelchair,” Ray said.
Ray already has a “100% success rate” with his first client, despite finding her to be less than savvy about job hunting. “When I asked about her resume, she said, ‘What’s a resume?’ But she interviewed the next day and got the job.”
“People with disabilities have to become planners. We have to know how to bridge the gaps that naturally happen in everyday life. I am rarely ever late anywhere because I can’t take anything for granted.”
He deeply appreciates how Antioch has already begun to help him: “At the community college level, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t very articulate. At Antioch, where professors
Actually participate meaningfully in class discussions, I found I was not very articulate and I’m learning how to be.
“Instructors here are beautiful at steering a discussion on the right path; not letting it squirrel off. It forces you to quantify whatever it is you’re going to say. So, ultimately, Antioch has made me a more academic thinker.”
Ray said the instructors and staff at AUM “make it easy for me to attend classes. Everyone has done an excellent job of making sure I feel welcome.”
About Antioch University Midwest: Antioch University Midwest is one of the five campuses of Antioch University, an institution proud of serving adult learners and their specific needs. Antioch University is a multi-campus university of more than 4,000 students who study at the Antioch Midwest campus in Yellow Springs, OH, and at campuses in Seattle, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Keene, New Hampshire, online and around the world!
Christopher M. Williams