‘Disabled’ but clearly able

Lauri Evans doesn’t let being blind get in the way of helping others to succeed

SHE IS OUR GUIDE<br>Lauri Evans, who has been legally blind since she was 14, scratches the neck of Vashti, her guide dog. She works to help disabled students at Chico State to get the best education possible.

Lauri Evans, who has been legally blind since she was 14, scratches the neck of Vashti, her guide dog. She works to help disabled students at Chico State to get the best education possible.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Lauri Evans spends most days in her cozy office on the Chico State campus. Those days are full—she trains employees, responds to e-mails, answers phone calls … and occasionally checks on Vashti, her guide dog, who’ll patiently bask in the afternoon sunshine.

Evans is blind, but she’s still an everyday woman. She dresses to a T, her hair is flawless, and she is decorated in enough gold jewelry to sink a pirate ship. She has a comedic approach toward life and a contagious smile.

Evans, who is now 44, was born with a genetic disorder called coloboma, causing underdevelopment of the eyes, leaving her legally blind at the age of 14. Because of the rare disease, Evans was also born with no left fibula and a malformed foot, so she uses a prosthetic leg. Though she has lived with her disabilities for most of her life, she said this has not stopped her from living each day to the fullest.

As a support services coordinator for Chico State’s Disabilities Support Services for about 10 years, Evans calls her job the best one on campus.

She hires and trains groups of students to work one-on-one with students with disabilities who need academic assistance such as lab work, testing or research. She and her employees also provide electronic formats of books to those who are learning-disabled or blind. This is one of the many important steps in giving disabled students the chance to have the same college experience as everyone else, she said.

Before working for DSS, Evans served as an advocate ensuring the disabled received appropriate accommodations for accessibility, housing and transportation. She encourages people to look beyond their disabilities—to do everything they want to do.

“She’s always been so passionate about her beliefs,” said her husband of eight years, Jim, whom she met at Humboldt State.

Evans, who is working on her master’s degree in public administration at Chico State, has three children: Schuyler, 19; Aaron, 6; and Jenae, 3. She takes public transportation to work and uses her guide dog to get around. Other than that, she said, her days are pretty typical of a working parent.

“I work all day and then I go home and work the ‘p.m. shift,’ “ she said. “I pick up after my kids, make their dinner and spend quality time with them.”

While most people coordinate their outfits by color and style, Evans said she depends on zippers, buttons and pockets to determine what to wear every morning—and only relies on her husband to help pair socks.

“Guys are not the people to ask for fashion help,” Evans said. “I rely on my friends to tell me if something doesn’t match.”

Along with the help of her family, Evans is able to complete daily tasks easily using modern technology. She can send and receive e-mail, browse the net, manage data and work with all types of documents on her computer thanks to a screen reader and voice synthesizer, which reads words at an incredibly rapid speed. “Some people really believe computers shouldn’t talk,” Evans said. But it’s a good thing hers does.

Though she may use different technology to work and learn, she said people with disabilities are just like everyone else, and should be treated as such.

“You should see how foolish people scatter in a crowd when a wheelchair user or blind person with a cane wants to get by—it’s as if someone with the plague was coming through,” she said. “Yes, wheelchairs require extra room, but the disability is not contagious!”