2006 Focus Award Recipients

 Faculty: Dr. Nicoletta Adamo-Villani and Dr. Ronnie B. Wilbur

Dr. Nicoletta Adamo-Villani is an Associate Professor of Computer Graphics Technology, and Dr. Ronnie B. Wilbur is a Professor of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and is also the Director Chair of the Linguistics Program. Through Dr. Adamo-Villani's knowledge of computer graphics technology and Dr. Wilbur's knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL), these two professors collaborated to create an animated rabbit which signs ASL and fingerspells. They are researching ways to develop programs with activities that can be used to teach math to primary school children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and who use ASL as their primary form of communication. This technology could also be useful in assisting the guardians and teachers of these students as well. Dr. Wilbur has conducted much research into the nonmanual tasks (or facial expressions) of ASL and their interface role with regards to syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and intonation. Dr. Wilbur and Dr. Adamo-Villani both agree that facial expressions, hand movements, and body language are very important components of how human beings communicate with each other. Although their National Science Foundation (NSF) grant was initially turned down in 2003, Dr. Adamo-Villani and Dr. Wilbur have continued to collaborate with each other while pursuing this research topic. They received a Purdue School of Technology I3 grant in April 2003 for the amount of $30,000 to continue their research, and resubmitted their grant proposal to the NSF in mid-February 2006. A patent for their animated rabbit research efforts entitled "Blending and Interactive Animation Method for Sign Language," was filed in September 2005. Dr. Gerardo Beni, a colleague of Dr. Adamo-Villani's within Electrical Engineering at the University of California-Riverside, also assisted in their research.

Staff: David M. Schwarte

David M. Schwarte is the Assistive Technology Specialist in the Assistive Technology Center (ATC), formerly Adaptive Learning Programs (ALPS) Lab. As the assistive technology specialist, Mr. Schwarte has aided numerous Purdue University students and employees who have disabilities by training them how to use assistive technology and software and by addressing their adaptive technology issues. Mr. Schwarte has also been an important resource for employees and students outside of his immediate responsibilities in the ATC. Mr. Schwarte will frequently intersect with the Testing Center when an individual with a disability requires assistive technology to take a test. He has also transported equipment and assistive technology to areas where it was needed to ensure equal access to people with disabilities. Mr. Schwarte also serves on a number of committees. He is a member of the Web Accessibility Committee, formerly Purdue Universal Access Initiative committee on the West Lafayette campus, which gives presentations regarding web accessibility for people with disabilities.  He also serves on the ADA, People and Technology committee which addresses Americans with Disabilities Act and access concerns on campus.

Student: Nicolas B. Widman

Nicolas (Nick) B. Widman, was a senior studying Computer Science and Math when he received the Focus Award. He earned his undergraduate degree in Purdue’s honors Computer Science and Math curriculum.  During the 2005-2006 academic school year, Mr. Widman was the Floor Senator in his residence hall, acting as the liaison between the floor residents, the residence hall staff, and the residence hall government. He was also asked by the Adaptive Programs, now known as the Disability Resource Center, Associate Dean at the time, Heather Stout, to be the student representative on the Advisory Council on Disability Issues, and accepted the invitation. This committee explores issues that prevent students with disabilities from having equal access to the University in any way, ensures academic integrity, and discusses concerns professors have regarding students with disabilities. He was also a member of the Purdue Advocates for Disability Issues panel during the Disability Awareness Month activities for March of 2005. Mr. Widman worked hard while here at Purdue, and was recognized for his skills and abilities. In the summer of 2005, Mr. Widman had an internship with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Washington, D.C. He also received both the Microsoft Scholarship Award for $5,000 dollars and the Cisco Systems Scholarship. Mr. Widman has stated, "I am aware that my Asperger's Syndrome causes me to have a relative weakness in my ability to understand complex interpersonal relationships and social cues." He has many positive assets which far outweigh his stated limitations. Mr. Widman was accepted into the University of California-Los Angeles computer science doctoral program, which is quite an accomplishment considering most of the students accepted into this program have had to also earn a master's degree.

Organization: Best Buddies

Best Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities by providing opportunities for one-to-one friendships with other people in the community. Founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, Best Buddies is a vibrant, international organization that has grown from one original chapter to more than 1200 middle school, high school, and college campuses across the country and internationally. This organization does a wonderful job of bringing friendship into the lives of individuals who have limited opportunities to experience friendship. At the same time, the students participating in Best Buddies learn about leadership and community service, and realize they can have a role as future employees and leaders in their community. The chapter at Purdue has worked very hard from its inception to provide as many opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities as possible. They truly understand the importance of the program and the work they are doing. It is this dedication that earned them Chapter of the Year honors. Several of the students return year after year to participate with their "Best Buddy." As a result, stronger friendships are formed, which provides consistency and continuity to the lives of the people with intellectual disabilities. Our community is very fortunate to have the Best Buddies chapter at Purdue University. Through respect, laughter, love, understanding, and honesty, they are truly changing lives one friendship at a time.