By Elizabeth Del Cid, 18, North Hollywood HS
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When Jane Shevtsov first moved to the U.S. from the Ukraine, she was put in a class for retarded children. But the wheelchair-bound 6-year-old was not mentally challenged—she’s physically disabled.

Her parents fought to remove Jane from that class and put her in a regular classroom. After a struggle with the school, Jane made the switch. She’s grown used to discrimination.

She advises people to act normal when around the disabled. "Don’t ask the person with me if I can eat something you offer me. I am not a 5-year-old," she said.

At four months old, Jane was diagnosed with post-encephalitis syndrome, a disease that damaged her nervous system and is the reason for her lack of balance and lack of control with her upper body. Initially, her pediatrician thought she had the flu.

Jane has been in a wheelchair ever since, and relies on the assistance of others to get her through the day.

Some are quick to judge her

From the get-go, Jane’s life has been turbulent. One of the biggest obstacles in her way is the lack of understanding by others about her disability. This only throws stumbling blocks in front of her disability, which is already tough enough.

Her elementary and middle school years were especially difficult. For instance, some teachers gave her low grades because of her disability. They expected her to complete the same work as other students, when she should have been offered adapted variations. Other students didn’t quite know what to make of her. She wasn’t popular with her peers and had few friends. To make matters worse, one elementary school principal wouldn’t let her play outside during recess or lunch and thought that Jane couldn’t handle it on the main playground. Once, a few of her friends snuck away from the playground to the classroom to play with her, but were later punished for doing so.

Then, there were several occasions when the Los Angeles Unified School District forgot to send an aide to help her at school, or a special bus to take her to and from school.

As a result, with the help of the Americans Civil Liberties Union, Jane and her parents have filed many cases against the district and individuals for hate crimes and discrimination against her.

Everyday life can be tough

The now 18-year-old has faced a lot of discrimination. One would expect adults to be more sensitive than youth about her disability, but that’s not always the case.

"Most of my problems are with older folks and bureaucrats. Kids are okay with me—although there are always a few jerks," Jane said.

She tells me this on a Saturday, as she gets ready for the library. But even something that simple quickly turns complicated.

The elevator in their apartment building is busted again. So Jane’s dad, Vladimir, must help her down three flights of stairs. Then he must grab her wheelchair—which weighs more than Jane—and bring it downstairs.

The library is close enough that Jane doesn’t have to take the bus. Public transportation sounds convenient, but not for Jane and others in wheelchairs. Bus drivers often say the lifts are broken, and therefore Jane can’t get a ride.

Many times, Jane has no choice except to take the bus, because her family does not own a car. If her parents purchased a car, it would be difficult and expensive to transport her because she needs a lift to get her power-wheelchair in the car. At least the manual wheelchair disassembles and can fit in the trunk.

Things are getting better

Jane graduated from North Hollywood High School’s Zoo Magnet, a program that has influenced her to a future in biology. She had teachers who made sure she could participate in every student activity.

One teacher, for instance, hooked a camera to a microscope and then to a computer, so she could observe different animal stages of development in physiology. Her social life got a lift, too. She took on a full workload of six classes, was a member of the Speech and Debate team and helped mentally retarded teens in her spare time.

Jane doesn’t date. She’s never really been interested in having a boyfriend, she said. But most of her close friends are guys and she enjoys spending time with them. She’s found a special place for herself in the community and often works as a volunteer.

During her alone time, Jane writes nature poems, listens to country music or enters math and science contests on the Internet. She’s always up to something.

This fall she’ll attend UCLA and live on campus. Her plans include teaching for a few years and then pursuing a graduate degree and becoming an ecologist. She’s excited for the challenge.

At UCLA, she’ll need three aides. One will live with her. Two students will help her get around.

"I need somebody nearby all the time, because I never know what will happen," Jane said.