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Disabled Student Fights Challenges to Earn College Degree

Laura Beal has been told she wasn't college material her whole life. And at one point, she believed all the naysayers.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Laura Beal is a woman who truly values her education.

She's a student at Missouri Western State University, but for her whole life she's suffered from a number of health conditions.

Namely she's diagnosed with phenylketonuria, a genetic disorder that presents her with numerous and significant challenges.

"I have bone and joint deformities and abnormalities," Beal explains.  "I have pain and inflammation in my soft tissues.  I have sight, hearing, and cognitive problems, especially with mathematics."

Because of her physical limitations, she gets around campus on an electric scooter.  That's from her doctor's orders.

She does her best to remain independent, but has relied on a little help along the way.

Enter one of her more important helpers, Mike Ritter, from the university's Accessibility Resource Center.

Ritter helps students like Laura gain access to what they need to get their studies done successfully.

"I see students like Laura all the time who have so many challenges that if you looked at them on paper you'd think, 'Wow! There's no way they'll make it through college - it's just too much.' There's too many things in their way that are barriers in their path and they won't be able to get around them," Ritter said.

Laura first tried to go to college in 1996. 

When her mother dropped her off, she made Laura promise her she'd finish school.

Adversity got in the way. 

She was forced out of college, and her life went off track for quite some time.

But she has faced obstacles before; and her recent tenure at Missouri Western will finally show a payoff on that promise nearly 20 years ago.

In December, Laura will graduate with a degree in Social Work, with minors in Sociology and Children's Studies.

"I don't have my mother any more.  I lost her in 2003.  But in less than four months, I will close this chapter of my life and keep that promise to my mom," Beal said.

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