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They're learning to change obstacles into opportunities

Through dealing with their disabilities, many Latter-day Saints are discovering and developing ways to change obstacles into opportunities for service.

The following three people are among those who have learned to cope and contribute:Jennifer Andersen, a vivacious 19-year-old woman, often can be seen in her wheelchair at the busy intersection of Pico Boulevard and Overland Avenue in Los Angeles. She threads her way through the pedestrians crossing the street, reaches the far sidewalk, and deftly executes a "wheelie" as she waits for the opposing light to change.

Jennifer, an assistant Relief Society secretary in the Westwood (Calif.) 2nd Ward, travels by wheelchair because she was born with spina bifida or a split spine.

"It is a defect caused because the spinal cord did not develop properly in the early weeks of pregnancy, and the extent of the disability depends on which part of the spine is affected," Jennifer said.

The oldest of five children, Jennifer realized she was different when her parents moved her from a special school into a regular fifth grade class. She couldn't do some of the things her friends could do, like running or riding a bicycle.

"Even though it was hard adjusting, changing schools was a good thing because I got a better education," she said.

By the time she started high school, Jennifer was comfortable with herself, and had many friends from Church programs and also friends whom she had met at special camps for children with handicaps.

After high school, Jennifer attended Santa Monica College. This year she was offered the opportunity to intern in an on-the-job training program to become an elementary school teacher.

"I work in the kindergarten three full days a week, and I love working with children," she said. "I have no problems being in a wheelchair, none whatsoever."

She's capable and self-sufficient. Nine months ago, her family moved to Utah, but Jennifer chose to remain in Los Angeles.

Richard R. Hart was told he shouldn't stutter, but the harder he tried to quit, the worse his stuttering became.

"I just knew I had to get over it before I got to junior high," he recalled. "In fact, at each step of my life - high school, college, mission, graduate school, work or bishop - I couldn't imagine taking the next step as a stutterer. But somehow I always did."

Speech therapists helped him keep his stuttering in check. He discovered that despite his struggle to speak to people one on one, he was fluent in front of large groups. He ran for a student body office in junior high school and lost. He tried again in high school and was elected student body president.

But he refused to be a part-time stutterer; he wanted to be cured. When he was set apart by a General Authority to be a counselor in a bishopric, he expected a miracle.

"My wife and I came fasting, and I asked for a special blessing," he said. "I was told in the blessing to do the things I knew I needed to do to get control of my speech."

Hart tried hypnotism, medication and several other treatments. Finally, he went to the University of Utah speech clinic and learned how to relax his muscles that went rigid when he stuttered. He wasn't cured, but he could control his problem. Later, he would help three of his five sons overcome problems with stuttering.

"As an adult stutterer, I am convinced the Lord gives each of us special talents to discover, develop and share," Hart related. "The problems put in our way are often the best way to discover and sharpen those talents. I worry that our six children have been given a harder path because they don't have a `thorn in the flesh,' as the apostle Paul called his affliction."

Lynn Cruser attends football games, yelling and cheering like any other fan. However, there is a difference. He is blind.

As volunteer chairman of the Church's Braille Production Committee, Cruser is working to make reading materials - such as manuals, the sacrament prayer and Joseph Smith's Testimony - available to the visually impaired.

He reads by running his fingers over a piece of paper with raised dots that represent letters and words. He works full time proofreading Braille translations of the scriptures. His assistant, Mary Bevan, recalled how they recently proofread the Doctrine and Covenants, reading every punctuation mark, capital letter and word. After 23 sections, they decided the work was progressing too slowly.

"Our deadline was self-imposed, based on our desire to work on the Book of Mormon before the year's end," Sister Bevan related. "We wanted the material ready for the new Braille printer that would be available after the first of the year. The new printer would print on two sides, reducing the bulk for the volumes of pages that equal the standard size printing, making Braille material available in reduced quantity but not quality."

They tried to get another volunteer reader but couldn't. Seeking help from the Lord, they continued their efforts. The Spirit seemed to guide them to answers and corrections that otherwise may have gone unnoticed, Sister Bevan said.

"I observed Lynn as dedicated and relentless when he shared with me his inspiration to read with both hands, overcoming the obstacle of needing another reader and helping the work of proofreading the scriptures move forward," Sister Bevan noted. "Many individuals commented as they watched him read from the 1948 Braille printing of the Doctrine and Covenants and the new printing. They would ask, How do you do that, Lynn?' His response was,I bet you can't read with both eyes like I can with both hands!' "


(CHART)

CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

Total Members with Disabilities.....913,920

Handicapped.....752,640

Severely Mentally Ill.....161,280

SOURCE: Committee for Members with Disabilities estimates