OSWEGO, NY – SUNY Oswego criminal justice major Erin Scala faces challenges head-on.
When retinitis pigmentosa began to seriously affect her vision two years ago she grieved, then picked herself up and made plans for her future.
SheÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d wanted to be a police officer since childhood, and in high school she did an internship with the Baldwinsville Police Department.
She thought sheÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d have to give up the idea as her vision deteriorated.
Now 22, Scala, of Baldwinsville, is legally blind, but she hasnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t given up her plan for a law enforcement career.
She successfully completed a summer job at the Onondaga County Probation Department in Syracuse.
She wasnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t too optimistic at first. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI thought theyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d have me just sitting doing paperwork,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â she said with a laugh.
She got more than sheÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d hoped for.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œShe worked with our DWI team, our city team, and pre-trial release. Erin is very adaptable,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â said her supervisor, Ed Detor.
She made late-night home visits and came in early to work at the jail. She followed some clients over time from the jail interview to court. She did ride-alongs with officers during her free time.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI was nervous at first,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â she admitted. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œBut now I feel a ton of confidence. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m more aware of my surroundings.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Scala uses a white cane.
She wore a bulletproof vest and always traveled with at least one other officer.
When she did have to do paperwork, she worked on a computer equipped with Jaws, software that lets the computer speak.
She also took a self-defense class at Premier Martial Arts in Liverpool.
She reasoned that the class would help her in a future law enforcement career.
The New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped agreed, and approved funding for the class.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m so much more confident with it,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â she said.
Scala visited the FBI in WashingtonÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â D.C., where she met some blind FBI agents.
She also spoke to the FBIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator.
She returned to AURORA of CNY, where she had taken pre-vocational workshops, to address the current pre-voc students.
AURORA is a non-profit that serves Central New Yorkers who are blind, deaf, visually impaired and hard of hearing.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œErin used to be shy. In the beginning, she focused on her disability rather than on her capability,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â said Connie Cottrell, AURORAÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s pre-vocational coordinator.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI wouldnÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t be where I am without my disability. Without it I might still be shy,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Erin said.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s fuel and motivation,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Cottrell added.
Scala is on track to get her criminal justice degree in December 2009, and she gives credit to SUNY OswegoÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s disability services office for making her time there easier.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œStarr Knapp (the officeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s coordinator) is amazing. She helped with classes, with books, with test-taking accommodations. They scanned books ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ they go above and beyond,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â she said.
After graduation she wants to return to the Onondaga County Probation Department.
Mary Winter, commissioner of probation, said she is pursuing a waiver of the probation officer firearms requirement.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œGovernor Paterson is blind. No one is going to turn us down. Erin can do the job, except for firearms,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â she said.
Scala said her parents are encouraging and supportive.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI know my parents worry, like all parents do, but they donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t let on,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â she said.
Erin is the youngest of Barb and John ScalaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s four children.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œI like to think that their mother and I provided all of them with the basics, if you will, for how to survive in our world. I sometimes would say to friends, when we would discuss how independent our children have become, that we teach them to be independent and then, when they are independent, we donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t like it,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â John Scala said.
He said he thinks, almost daily, about how Erin will ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œget along in this crazy world of ours,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â facing the usual challenges added to those of a visual impairment.
He praised his daughterÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s focus and organization. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œShe seems to know what she wants and then goes about getting it. Worry as a parent, you bet I do, but I am getting out of ErinÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s way because sheÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s always moving forward ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ and at quite a pace!ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â he said.