Posted on: Thursday,
May 31, 2001
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Next week, University of Hawai'i professor Richard Radtke will have a lot of help searching for algae, invertebrates and fish in O'ahu tide pools.
In fact, he'll have 150 students accompanying him to conduct research on the Leeward shores. But to reach the water, the group will have to overcome some obstacles.
Some of Radtke's students will be in wheelchairs. Others will need a sighted guide to lead the way.
No problem, Radtke says.
Radtke, a University of Hawai'i field biologist paralyzed from the neck down, travels the world scuba diving and studying fish. Despite multiple sclerosis and quadriplegia, Radtke has written dozens of scientific articles and abstracts and has conducted research in Antarctica, Norway, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Greenland.
Getting around O'ahu should be easy.
Radtke, a former college defensive end, will lead a math and science camp for disabled students June 8-10 called Ocean of Potentiality at Camp Wai'anae. The goal of the camp is to help lead disabled children into careers in science, math, engineering and technology — all subjects the National Science Foundation, which helps pay for the camp, says disabled students tend to shy away from.
For paralyzed children, science is a subject that can be especially hard to crack. They often are told they can't take their wheelchairs across the sand to a tide pool. And blind children are frustrated by clunky attempts to translate mathematical formulas into Braille.
Ocean of Potentiality gives many students their first chance to see ocean life up close, visit the beach or go camping. During previous weekends, they've rafted or ridden in helicopters to learn about science. Radtke says the camp teaches kids that anything is possible, even if they need a little assistance in reaching a destination.
The camp tries to include students from all islands with an assortment of disabilities. Campers in the past have been autistic, blind, deaf, paraplegic or had learning or emotional disabilities.
"We're not trying to take the place of what school does," Radtke says. "We're trying to raise self-esteem and incite curiosity. Our job is to get them interested, keep them interested and make it fun."
The students do research at tide pools, study solar energy, take computers apart and make digital videos at the camp.
Some less academic pursuits are also available.
"To have a camp, you have to have a campfire. We have a dance," Radtke says. "Many of them haven't gone to dances because they feel out of place. We show them you can still have fun and have a disability."
Ocean of Potentiality also has held camps on Kaua'i, the Big Island and Moloka'i.
Radtke compares the work that goes into organizing the camp and watching students try things they never have before to the thrill of athletics.
"It's an adrenaline rush," he said. "It's like being a long-distance runner. I don't think anyone really runs because they like to run. They like the feeling of the rush. We have fun."
Radtke said he is realistic when he tells children about the obstacles to being a field scientist. But those obstacles have yet to stop him.
To learn more about Ocean of Potentiality, go to www.oceanofpotentiality.org.
Jennifer Hiller can be reached at 525-8084 or by e-mail at email@example.com.