My journey through school

Marcus Nakoa often studies in Hale ‘Akoakoa – Cynthia Lee Sinclair
Marcus Nakoa often studies in Hale ‘Akoakoa – Cynthia Lee Sinclair

A disabled student speaks out


One cannot help but be impressed when talking to Marcus Nakoa.

The 23-year-old Kāne‘ohe native is personable and friendly with a quick smile and positive attitude. He is a self-professed chocoholic and a diehard Steelers football fan. He is also a disabled student here at WCC.

“There are anywhere from 130 to 150 disabled students here at the WCC campus,” said WCC disabilities counselor Ann Lemke.

Nakoa was born three months early, weighing just two and a half pounds. He has cerebral palsy and at the age of 16 had to have brain surgery to correct hydrocephalus, a problem with fluid on the brain.

One of six kids and the only boy in his family, he was spoiled by his sisters growing up. He said it created a bit of dependency on his part always having things done for him. He is learning to be more independent these days and prides himself on being very persistent.

He cannot walk and is confined to a wheelchair. But he has a sharp mind.

“He is a very interesting conversationalist,” said Keyah Rowsey-Briggs, one of Nakoa’s good friends at WCC.

After graduating from Castle High School in 2011, Nakoa came straight to WCC, though in hindsight he said it might have been good to take a break first.

He commutes to school every day on the 77 bus from his home in Waimānalo, where he lives with his aunt, uncle and grandparents. The commute takes over an hour each way. But he rides with his best friend, which he said makes “the time go by fast and makes the trip seem not so bad at all.”

Working toward his associate’s degree in liberal arts, Nakoa plans to transfer to UH Mānoa to study law. “I like to talk, so I might as well get paid for it,” he said.

His biggest struggle at WCC is the layout of the campus. “To get from the front of the campus to Hale ‘Ākoakoa is like torture.” While WCC is an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible campus, there are several improvements that could be made to make things better for disabled students. There is an option to call campus security to come and give rides to any disabled student needing one, but very few students know of this option.

“I feel stuck in a mobility over convenience problem,” Nakoa explained.

He has a motorized wheelchair, but it has very small wheels and if they get caught in a pothole then he is completely stuck. If he is alone, he is unable to get out of the pothole himself. If it is raining, the potholes are difficult to see and then he finds himself stuck out in the rain. A motorized wheelchair does not work well in the rain, since the battery should not get wet.

The larger wheels on his manual wheelchair make navigating rough surfaces easier. “There are a lot of places on campus where the pavement is very rough, and it’s full of a lot of potholes,” he said.

So he sacrifices the convenience of a motorized wheelchair for mobility. The main drawback is that he has to use the strength in his arms to get up the hill from the front of the school. “Don’t get me wrong. It is a good workout,” he said.

There is no direct path from one side of the campus to the other for a wheelchair, and he must take a very circuitous route to get there. “If not for friends helping out each day, I would be dead tired every day,” he said.

Nakoa’s friends speak very highly of him. “He always has your back,” said Jocelyn Matsumoto.

“He is a good friend. He is always there to listen or make up the difference if you find yourself short at the bookstore,” said Rowsey-Briggs

Nakoa takes just two classes a semester because of the time involved getting from class to class and the energy he expends getting there. So it will take him longer to get his degree than he would like.

He said his teachers have been flexible and helpful about making adjustments to due dates when he has needed the extra time to complete assignments.

His most difficult subject by far has been math. He said he is glad he got it out of the way in the beginning. His favorite class was history with instructor Ryan Koo.

So far, he said he has not had to use the services that are in place for disabled students. “I am persistent and always find ways to get around challenges that have come up,” he said.

Nakoa works hard at being as independent as possible but credits his success in school to the good friends that are always around to lend a helping hand.


by Cynthia Lee Sinclair, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter