NAU professor discusses his disability, family and what it means to be a regular dad

Wangeman and son

At first glance, you may not guess Matthew Wangeman is a professor at Northern Arizona University, but not because he looks too young or is covered head-to-toe in tattoos.

“I happen to have a significant disability that makes people view me as very different from them,” he explains. “When I am going to and coming back from teaching classes on campus I know when many people look at me they assume things about me that are not true. For the most part, they don’t see a person who is capable and equal to them. They don’t see a highly educated person and certainly not someone who could possibly teach at NAU.”

Wangeman was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of 18 months and said despite what people may think, he lives a typical life, just like everyone else.

“People simply can’t imagine a person like me could be the father to a brilliant 14-year-old boy who makes me proud every day. The assumptions that many people make about me and my life are simply not true.”

On Feb. 23, the public is invited to the documentary premier about the life of Matthew Wangeman through the eyes of his teenage son. After the short screening, Wangeman and his son will host a conversation with the audience about disability, family and what it means to be a regular dad.

Often, he said, people are dumbfounded to learn about his numerous accomplishments and always wonder how he overcame his disability.

“It’s not about overcoming my disability; it’s about helping you overcome my disability.” He goes into detail in a past NAU News story.

Despite people’s perceptions, like many professors, teaching for Wangeman is personal and important.

“As a member of the NAU community I feel extremely fortunate to have the ability to make an impact on our students that we send out into the world,” he said. “I always knew I wanted to teach young people and I truly have found my dream job teaching at NAU.”

The screening and conversation will take place at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23 in the Cline Assembly Hall. It is free and open to the public. For those unable to attend the viewing, a stream of both the documentary and the conversation will be posted to the Wild Asparagus Productions Facebook page following the event.

“My Dad Matthew,” directed by NAU disability studies professor John Schaffer was made possible by a grant from One Revolution, whose mission is to “turn the perception of disability upside down.”

Wangeman is an instructor in the Disability Studies Minor at NAU, which is administered through the Institute for Human Development in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

NAU Communications