Video features UW-Whitewater graduates who excel despite physical disabilities

September 10, 2009

Five University of Wisconsin-Whitewater graduates are the subjects of a new video designed to remind people that physical disabilities need not limit the career choices of motivated students.

The video was developed by Pathways to Independence, a state program that works to remove or reduce barriers to employment for people with severe disabilities.  Nancy Christy Heinen of Madison produced the video.

Jacquelyn Wenkman, who works in the University Center for Excellence in Development Disabilities at the Waisman Center at UW-Madison, selected the five individuals. She worked with them in her previous position as assistant director of Disabled Student Services at UW-Whitewater and has kept in touch with them after they graduated.

Featured in the video are Becky Trochinski, a multimedia computer art teacher in the Milwaukee Public Schools; David Cohen, an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago; Jeremy Lade, director of the wheelchair basketball program at UW-Whitewater; Melvin Juette, community services coordinator for the Dane County District Attorney's Office; and Joe Entwistle, Milwaukee, a senior policy analyst for the National Consortium for Health Systems.

Trochinski went on from UW-Whitewater to earn a master's degree from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Cohen earned a law degree from the University of Illinois. Lade earned his undergraduate degree from UW-Whitewater and joined the school's staff.  Juette and Entwistle earned graduate degrees from UW-Madison.

"What we were interested in was not so much their disabilities, but what they had in common," Wenkman said. "They kept saying the important thing to them was the support of their family and their friends -- and that they didn't let disabilities stand in the way of their wanting to achieve their goals."

"I was always surrounded by a great family and great friends," Entwistle says in the video.  "If you've got that, you've got the world."

Trochinski said, "My friends never treated me like I was disabled. . .When people tell you you can't do something, you have a choice to say 'Oh, well, I guess I can't' or 'No way! I'm going to show you.'"

Elizabeth Watson, director of the Center for Students with Disabilities at UW-Whitewater, said her office tries to "focus on career choices, not disabilities."

"UW-Whitewater has a special mission in this regard," Watson said. "Back in 1974, our campus was designated by the Board of Regents to focus on students with disabilities.  At any given time, you will find 60 or 70 of our students who use wheelchairs and another 30 or 40 students who have attendants.  We serve more than 500 students in our Center for Students with Disabilities -- so we take that charge pretty seriously."

The professionals featured in the video make the most of the opportunities afforded them.

Wenkman helped Trochinski get the special kiln and art tools she needed to complete her art education studies.  Trochinski will have a one-woman show at the university this fall, Watson said.

Juette not only graduated from college, he became one of the best wheelchair basketball players in the world, competing on the U.S. national wheelchair basketball team.  He and Ronald J. Berger, chair of the Department of Sociology at UW-Whitewater, recently published a book, "Wheelchair Warrior: Gangs, Disability and Basketball," detailing his life and his achievements.

Lade, who goes by the nickname "Opie," says his childhood dream was to become a physical education teacher. "Being a coach kind of allows me to do the same things a P.E. teacher does, except now I can give back to disabled youth versus able-bodied kids I would see in a high school environment."

Before being hired as head coach of the men's wheelchair basketball team at UW-Whitewater, Lade played with the U.S. Paralympics men's wheelchair basketball team in Beijing; Rio De Janeiro, Brazil; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; and Kitakyushu, Japan.

While these talented professionals managed to achieve goals set while they were young, they also credit the help they received from caring professionals in Whitewater.

"Without Jackie, I'd be selling McDonald's hamburgers somewhere," Cohen said in a 2006 alumni profile article.

"My No. 1 motivation from the day I was born was that I will have a life," Cohen said.  "I will be part of the community.  I will have friends and I will have a career and achieve the American dream."

For more information about UW-Whitewater's program for students with disabilities, contact Watson at 262-472-1630.


Sara Kuhl