In 1954 Richard Evensen eagerly hit the job marked armed with a master's degree from Boston University and a bachelor's from Harvard, both in political science. Yet, after an extensive search, he could find only a typist's position. Jobs weren't that scarce in 1954, and Evensen figured his blindness was the reason he didn't get hired.
Evensen is not one to give up, however, and last week, at the age of 52, he received his second master's degree -- this one in library science -- from Catholic University. Evensen, who lives in Wheaton, hopes the new degree will propel him into a management position with the Library of Congress, where he has been working as a project coordinator for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
With equal determination, Roslyn Rosen, who has been deaf since birth, studied part-time for five years and last week received a Ph.D. in education during the same commencement ceremonies. The 38-year-old College Park woman had maintained a perfect 4.0 grade average.
As director of Gallaudet College's Special School of the Future, Rosen is working on a five-year project, now in its third year, to help 36 schools in the nation establish resource centers for the deaf.
Rosen and Evensen have never met, but in separate interviews they agreed that the greatest burden handicapped people bear is not their handicaps but the attitudes others have toward them.
Evensen said the memory of his first job still stirs feelings of anger.
". . . the whole problem with blind people -- well, with handicapped people -- is that no matter how smart you are, people don't think you can handle a job," he said.
The prejudices show in other ways.
"I still have trouble getting into restaurants because people are not aware of the law. It's legal to bring a seeing-eye dog into a restaurant, and usually when I leave, people are shocked to find out that a dog was quietly sitting beside me the whole time," said Evensen.
Rosen and Evensen both believe the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was a milestone for the handicapped.It expanded vocational rehabilitation programs for the handicapped and created several federal grants for the programs.
For Evensen, being blind since the age of 2 has not been his greatest burden. That came later in life.
"Christopher is -- was -- our only son. He was 20 years old when he died in November of 1979. After six months of stomach pains, no stupid doctor could diagnose what was wrong and I do say that with some bitterness. . . . He was finally diagnosed has having lymphoma," said Evensen. Lymphoma is a form of cancer that attacks lymphoid tissues.
"My wife and I were there when he died, and I don't look back on it as a bad experience. I'm glad we were with him when he died."
Throughout the ordeal, Evensen missed only 10 days of work and just a few classes as he passed the halfway point toward earning his master's on a part-time basis. His professors and other university employes say they still are amazed at his diligence and courage in the face of the devastating personal tragedy.
"He never let it get him down, he just kept right on going to class the whole time his son was ill and after he died," said Steven Badzik, a Catholic University spokesman.
During her years of study for her Ph.D, Rosen said, "I was able to participate fully in class because I always had an interpreter." She explained in sign language to her son, Steve, who interpreted the interview orally.
Rosen earned her bachelor's and master's degrees at Gallaudet, and joked that her grades then were lower than the 4.0 average she maintained for her Ph.D because "the older you get the wiser you get."
Rosen and her husband Herbert, a computer programmer at Gallaudet who also is deaf, have lived in Maryland since 1961. Their children are Jeff, 19, Steve, 15, and Suzy, 13. All three have impaired hearing.
"Ten percent of (married) deaf adults have deaf children," explained Rosen.
She feels Maryland's legisture is responsive to the problems of deaf people and to handicapped persons in general, "but there is always room for improvement.
"Most schools teach foreign languages -- French, German, Spanish -- but they don't teach sign language. . . . I think all schools should offer a sign language class," she said.
She also pointed out that deafness has its advantages.
"My kids like to play their rock music really loud and it doesn't bother me. My home has become the neighborhood hangout," she observed with a laugh.
"The thunder during rainstorms doesn't bother me. . . . My husband's snoring never wakes me up and I can talk to him through the window if he's standing in the yard," she continued.
But Rosen's mood changed from light-hearted to solemn when she talked about the difficult situations deaf people face.
"There are several ways to look at it (deafness); you can make it a problem or you can laugh it off. I chose to laugh it of at a very young age. The greatest handicap has been other people's attitudes toward deafness," she said.