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Wheelchair-bound Student Wins Diploma Debate With AM-Valedictorian Suspended, Bjt

June 3, 1987

CANTON, Ohio (AP) _ A wheelchair-bound high school senior who received her diploma with the rest of her class Tuesday said her trip to the auditorium stage was a victory for herself and other disabled students.

Holly Reusser, 18, had been told last week she would receive her diploma on the floor of the Canton Memorial Civic Center auditorium, while her Canton McKinley High School classmates walked up stairs for presentations on the stage.

Principal Fred Blosser said he had ruled against an on-stage presentation for Miss Reusser after deciding there were too many obstacles in a passageway to the stage from a backstage ramp.

Blosser said he reversed his decision Monday after a second visit to the auditorium showed the obstacles had been removed. The visit was prompted by a call from a lawyer on Miss Reusser’s behalf.

″I’m glad I got my point across because I’m not going to be treated like a second-class citizen,″ Miss Reusser said. ″I’m just as important as the rest of my classmates. I’ve worked just as hard, I deserve that diploma and I deserve to go up and get it.″

Miss Reusser, of Massillon, attended the school’s program for orthopedically handicapped students. Born with spina bifida, she is paralyzed from the waist down.

The principal said he thought Miss Reusser and her mother had accepted his original decision, although they did not agree with it.

″My concern was for her safety,″ he said. ″I didn’t want to see a box or chair fall on her as she went through the storerooms.″

Blosser said the floor-level presentatation had been used in the past for students in wheelchairs. He said another student among the 414 graduates is in a wheelchair because of injuries from a motorcycle accident, and that student had opted to remain on the auditorium floor for her diploma presentatation.

The Reussers, however, contacted Ohio Legal Rights Services of Columbus, an advocacy group for the mentally ill and mentally and physically disabled. Blosser said a lawyer from the organization contacted him Friday and said the Reussers were considering legal action.

Miss Reusser, who plans to major in psychology at Wright State University in Dayton, said the diploma debate tainted what should have been a jubilant occasion but that it was an overdue victory for disabled students.

″I hope now that other people will start speaking up for themselves and start to get things done,″ she said.

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