by Brad Duncan
Suffering from a visual impairment since 1999 that has left her legally blind, UK College of Education student Deanna Henderson was recently one of two UK students awarded the annual Carol S. Adelstein Outstanding Student Award.
Named for the wife of retired UK English professor Michael Adelstein and given by the UK Disability Resource Center, the award is presented annually to the student with a disability who best serves as an inspiration to the university community. Nominees for the Adelstein Award are evaluated through the excellence they demonstrate in academic achievement, leadership, extracurricular activities, and social or personal qualities.
“I am both humbled and honored by this award,” said Henderson, who is working toward her master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. “It is one that I will treasure for a lifetime. It also means that the path I am on is the right path for me. It makes me want to try harder to live up to this honor.”
Until now, Henderson’s path has been a difficult one. From a bipolar disorder diagnosis to drug and alcohol abuse to homelessness, she has dealt with a lot in her life. Then on top of that, Henderson developed two eye diseases, Presumed Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome and Ocular Neuritis, which have resulted in her being labeled legally blind in one eye and visually impaired in the other. Though presently stable, they can recur and cause further damage, Henderson says.
It was the Charles W. McDowell Rehabilitation Center in Louisville, Ky., that Henderson credits with helping her the most and getting her back on her feet. According to the McDowell website, they “are committed to the mission of the agency to assist individuals who are blind and visually impaired in achieving their educational, vocational and independent living goals.”
“It’s tough to put into words what the people at the McDowell Center did for me,” Henderson said. “They opened my eyes to a new world of possibilities.”
Ultimately, Henderson wants to work at McDowell so that she can return the gifts that she was given.
“I not only want to make the world a better place for my children, but for all children no matter who they are or where they come from,” Henderson said. “I have always said that if I can make an impact on just one person, have the kind of effect in one person’s life that someone had in mine, then all the struggles, all the pain and suffering that I have gone through will have been worth it.”
Henderson was honored with the Adelstein Award based on a recommendation from the entire faculty of the UK College of Education Rehabilitation Counseling Program. In the nomination letter they said of Henderson, “She does not use her disability as an excuse or explanation for not being able to succeed; rather, she sees her disability as a platform from which to increase awareness of barriers encountered by those with disabilities.”
Henderson added, “For me, disability is not a bad word, because my disability is one that I have come to own. And come to treasure. My disability is the reason I am here and gives me purpose to my life.”
And in the near future, it will drive her to give purpose to others’ lives.