2013 Focus Award Recipients

Faculty - Dr. Oliver Wendt

Early on, Dr. Wendt thought he was going to be an engineer, a mathematician, or a physicist. After attending high school in Germany, in lieu of mandated military service, he completed community service in a preschool setting for infants and toddlers with severe and multiple disabilities. This experience changed Dr. Wendt’s career path and led him to the Department of Educational Studies and the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences here at Purdue University where he began his career as an Assistant Professor. His major research interests are in Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Autism Spectrum Disorders. In 2013, his research focus was investigating communication strategies including graphic symbols, manual signs, and speech-generating devices for those individuals on the autism spectrum that present with little or no functional speech.

This research focus all started with a treatment efficacy study in his lab on a picture book communication system for kids with severe autism.  The electronic book was cumbersome and expensive, and as the iPad came out, many parents were asking if there was a way for their children to transition to use the iPad.  Dr. Wendt investigated current apps available and did not find anything suitable for learners with autism.  That’s when he and his team started designing their own app, and SpeakAll! was conceived.  The iPad with SpeakAll! provides a more portable and more cost-efficient solution compared to electronic communication devices which can be several thousand dollars.  SpeakAll!, which is available for free, is also very easy to program and can be operated intuitively.  Dr. Wendt attributes the success of SpeakAll to the collaboration of many experts from a variety of disciplines – including engineering, graphics design, speech pathology, and special education.

Dr. Wendt states that kids with severe autism can make astonishing progress when provided with ongoing and systematic intervention.  He strongly believes that we should never give up or lower our expectations of these individuals.

When asked the one thing Dr. Wendt wished everyone knew about autism, he stated that most individuals with autism are nothing like the title character portrayed by actor Dustin Hoffman in the “Rainman” movie. There are less than 50 documented cases world-wide that have such extraordinary abilities. Individuals with autism need ongoing, systematic and intense intervention to make gains in their development to improve on autistic symptoms and unlock their hidden abilities.

Purdue is fortunate to have Dr. Wendt on our faculty.  It is truly exciting to think of the impact this freeapp will have on children with autism all over the world.

Staff - Carrie Anderson

Officially, Carrie Anderson is the Dining Court Supervisor for Wiley Dining Court.  Unofficially, she is known as the food allergy guru, or the “go to” person for assisting students with food allergies here at Purdue.  Most people would not consider a food allergy as a disability.  Those with a severe food allergy who face profound consequences if they eat the wrong thing may disagree.  Ms. Anderson reminds us that dealing with food allergies is extremely stressful.  Her work in the area of food allergies started 15 years ago when her oldest son was born.  When he was eight months old, he was diagnosed with egg, milk, wheat and peanut allergies – thus throwing her into the food allergy world.  It was her experience as a mother of a child with food allergies that led her to bring this work to our campus.  She takes a personal approach to working with students and their families to develop an individualized plan to provide food and an environment that is safe for students to eat.  As a mother with a child with food allergies, in her words, she “Gets It!”

In the fall of 2012, Ms. Anderson provided training to one employee from each dining court on food allergies, and she is always seeking new and alternative options for dining facilities to serve students with allergies. She also offered and gave a presentation at Boiler Gold Rush for students with food allergies. Ms. Anderson has approached the Office of the Dean of Students to let them know that they can refer parents and students with food allergy concerns to her. She even set up an e-mail address,allergicboiler@purdue.edu that goes directly to her for parents or students who have questions, and has created a pamphlet with helpful information. She was also put on the summer shift so she could be consulted on food allergy situations concerning Purdue’s summer campers. Ms. Anderson speaks to colleges and universities across the nation at regional conferences for college food service associations on accommodating food allergies in residential dining facilities.

On February 25, 2013, Ms. Anderson was featured in the “Thumbs Up” section of Purdue Today. The value of Ms. Anderson’s contributions is illustrated by the words of a parent who wrote, “My daughter is currently a sophomore at Purdue. She follows a gluten-free diet. Carrie Anderson, the dining court supervisor who specializes in food allergies, has been outstanding. She gave my daughter her cell number last year so that my daughter could text her when she was coming to the dining court and could tell her what she wanted so that she could have it ready for my daughter when she got there. That is going above and beyond. . . . As a mother, I can't thank you enough for all that you have done to make my daughter's experience at Purdue a positive one. She absolutely loves going to Purdue and feels that it is the perfect fit for her. I honestly don't believe she would feel this way if it were not for all the wonderful staff that you have helping my daughter. Your staff has been exceptional. It is evident that they are there for the students and that is their priority. Again, thank you to all those who have contributed to the positive experience my daughter has had at Purdue and have helped make her college experience less stressful by accommodating her needs.”

Carrie Anderson has made and continues to make a difference for our students here at Purdue.  We commend her for the impact she is having on students with food allergies and the awareness she is spreading at our campus and at the national level.

Student - Mallory Chua

Mallory Chua, who goes by “Mel,” was a first-year doctoral student in Engineering Education when she received her Focus Award. After receiving a degree in electrical and computer engineering, Ms. Chua worked as an engineer in several open source companies. When professors kept asking her how their students could work on her projects, she created summer workshops to teach faculty the open-source concept. This led her back to school. Her area of research itself is about accessibility – it focuses on enabling access to engineering knowledge through incorporating radical transparency practices from Free and Open Source communities into the course design processes of faculty members.

During the Spring 2013 semester, Ms. Chua has been invited by the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences department at Purdue to revise and teach a graduate class on signal processing to second-year audiology clinical doctoral students. With feedback and input from many of her friends from internet communities, who are self-described “technology geeks” with various hearing impairments, Ms. Chua takes advantage of the opportunity to help audiology students understand what their tech-savvy patients want them to know. These efforts have resulted in collaboration with the multidisciplinary engineering capstone course to work on designing solutions to make Purdue’s studio-style classrooms more accessible to people with hearing loss. Ms. Chua also has an interest in increasing access to STEM disciplines to children with hearing loss.

Ms. Chua’s entry in the online Purdue directory states, “Deaf; please use text (email/SMS) to contact. Frantic gestures or throwing a shoe across the room will also get my attention.” Ms. Chua’s sense of humor and passion for her projects are evidenced by her attitude and actions. She views writing as a form of teaching and keeps an active blog on just about everything she does, from dancing to speech therapy to research in engineering education. She also developed a mini-workshop on the experience of living with hearing loss which is located on her blog. This workshop includes exercises for the participant – such as putting on a pair of headphones with music playing and trying to have a conversation with someone else. (She notes that you can explain what you’re doing if you want, but it may be more fun if you don’t. And, you get bonus points if it’s with a stranger.) This workshop was used by a Purdue student group doing a project on understanding what it’s like to have a disability.

Ms. Chua reminds us that there is one world and we all experience it in a different way.  In her words, “There are billions of us out here, all interacting with the universe in our own ways – a multiplicity of ways of hearing, seeing, moving, thinking feeling … and to simplify things into ‘this is the hearing world and you are either deaf or hearing in it,’ is to miss out on a lot of richness as to what the world is and who people are.  Be aware of how you’re experiencing the world, and be aware that everyone you meet has their own experience of the universe, and that you don’t actually need to carve that universe into categories like “able/disabled” or “young/old” or “male/female” in order to experience and interact with it.”

Ms. Chua is a dynamic and enthusiastic student who has made a significant impact by educating others about hearing loss.  We are glad she is a part of the Purdue community.

Organization/Alumna - (ICAN) Indiana Canine Assistant Network

ICAN, which stands for the Indiana Canine Assistant Network, is an organization founded by Purdue alumna, Dr. Sally Irvin, in 2001.  ICAN’s mission is to train and place assistance dogs with children and adults with disabilities, while providing life and job skills to inmates within Indiana’s correctional facilities, who are responsible for training the dogs for service work.  ICAN brings together three diverse groups to empower people to live more enriched and independent lives:  Children and adults with disabilities and their families find they can live more independent and productive lives with the help of a service dog; Incarcerated adults who are carefully screened train these dogs and gain professional and life skills that help with a successful re-entry to our communities;  and the service dogs, which are naturally eager to be with people, are provided with work they enjoy.

There are nearly 450,000 people living with disabilities in Indiana.  Service dogs trained with specific skills and behaviors can provide people and their families with independence, confidence and a better quality of life.  Besides the unconditional love the dogs provide, they can provide services such as retrieving dropped or unreachable items, opening/closing doors and cabinets, and turning on/off light switches.  A service dog has the power to calm a child’s nerves in a courtroom.  They can provide their partner physical therapy by keeping them active.  Dogs can even give students the confidence in their learning as they sit while the student reads to them.  Service dogs have the power to impact an entire community of people who need them and also create a bridge to connect the non-disabled world with that of the disabled. 

ICAN’s initial home was in the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility, where incarcerated adolescents interacted with dogs-in-training. While ICAN’s original efforts focused on at-risk adolescents, the organization soon realized that the bigger need for adolescents was to experience the unconditional love and healing that a puppy could bring. As a result, ICAN now focuses on adult inmates providing training to the service dogs, and children with disabilities receiving placement priority. Today, the robust program has around 40 dogs-in-training across three correctional facilities in Indiana and a group of over 75 volunteers and staff.

In her role, Dr. Irvin serves as the spokesperson for ICAN as well as leading the administration of the organization.  A Purdue ICAN Club was started in 2008 to promote, fundraise and volunteer for ICAN. ICAN has made a significant contribution to the lives and welfare and of children and adults with disabilities in Indiana communities.  Purdue University is proud to have an alumna whose mission is to positively enrich the lives of individuals with disabilities.