Making Sense of Disability
by Katie Thomson '12
Diana Ventura ’88 never knew words on a piece of notebook paper would change her life. That paper contained her handwritten admission essay submitted to Gordon College in 1984.
After graduating from high school in 1982, Ventura hardly considered herself college material. She’d attended a vocational school that did little to prepare her for college, and, on top of that, had low SAT scores. “My life has been filled with miracles, and getting accepted to Gordon with that essay and those scores was one of them,” Ventura says.
Perhaps the very first miracle Ventura experienced was surviving her birth—she was born two months premature and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. As a child she used crutches, and her movement and balance are still distorted today.
Despite her disability, Ventura wanted more for her life. She decided to take a chance and send in that application to Gordon. She was accepted, and declared a physical education major with a minor in recreation and leisure studies.
Academics did not come easily at first. “I finished my freshman year with a GPA of 1.96,” she says. “I needed professors who would take a real interest in me if I was going to succeed.”
One of those was Peggy Hothem, professor of recreation and leisure studies, who provided both support and inspiration. Today Hothem is humbled by Ventura’s success. “Diana was like a sponge; she soaked up everything I said and all of the readings I assigned. When I wonder why I do what I do, she inspires me.”
As she continued at Gordon, Ventura wanted to help others with disabilities become more involved in recreation and leisure activities. She focused her attention on the La Vida program, which takes Gordon students to the Adirondacks. At the time, this program was unavailable for the disabled, but Ventura helped start the La Vida Voyager program, which took a group of disabled students, including herself, into the wilderness on a canoe trip.
Ventura went on to receive her master’s degree in therapeutic recreation from Temple University in 1991. She then pursued her love of theology and received her M.Div. from the University of Chicago in 2002.
Ventura is currently working at Harvard University conducting data analysis while obtaining a doctorate in practical theology and spirituality at Boston University. Through her studies at Boston University she is hoping to integrate her interests in theology and disability to help others make sense of their own experiences of brokenness.
Her most recent accomplishment is her first book, Our Fractured Wholeness. “I want to positively influence society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities and allow people to meet the everyday challenges of living with brokenness with hope, dignity and love,” she says.
She hopes her story can provide yet another miracle, this time for someone else.