2015 Focus Award Recipients

Faculty - Dr. Jessica E. Huber 

More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which is a progressive neurological disorder of the brain with symptoms including instability of posture or balance, general slowness of movement, and tremors or trembling. Nearly 90 percent of patients who live with Parkinson's disease live with hypophonia, often referred to as “soft voice.”  Soft voice causes a person’s speech to be hushed, whispery or even hoarse. Jessica Huber, associate professor of speech, language and hearing sciences, has invented SpeechVive, a device that cues patients to speak louder and more clearly. The device, which rests in the patient's ear, provides a stream of noise similar to the background chatter at a party, cueing the patient to naturally talk louder. This response is known as the Lombard effect.  Dr. Huber currently serves as the Chief Technology Officer of SpeechVive, Inc., a Lafayette-based corporation.

The SpeechVive device is currently available at 19 locations throughout the U.S. and is also available to try as a demo prior to purchasing through the National Parkinson's Disease Foundation’s Centers of Excellence.  Steve Mogensen, president and CEO of SpeechVive, has announced, “We are providing demo units and training at no cost to as many of the National Parkinson's Centers of Excellence as are interested in offering SpeechVive in conjunction with or as an alternative to speech therapy.  We also are offering the SpeechVive units and training to professionals at Veterans Administration Medical Centers (VAMC) across the country. The first VAMC to offer SpeechVive is in Cincinnati, Ohio."  The SpeechVive device also is available to try at the M.D. Steer Speech and Hearing Clinic at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Dr. Huber developed the technology based on her research to improve communication and the quality of life in older adults and people with degenerative motor diseases.  She says, "I was interested in respiratory control for speech. One of the ways to tax the respiratory system is to ask people to talk louder. I was interested in whether the way we ask them to talk louder would change what they actually did.  People with Parkinson's disease have problems with speaking loudly, and I thought it would be an interesting patient population to study this question, along with typical speakers”. “That was my introduction to Parkinson's disease and how patients speak.  The clinical data we have collected over the past four years demonstrates that SpeechVive is effective in 90 percent of the people using the device," Dr. Huber said. "I am proud of the improvements in communication and quality of life demonstrated in our clinical studies of the SpeechVive”.

Dr. Huber’s work has and continues to improve the countless lives of individuals with Parkinson’s and other degenerative motor diseases. 

Staff - Blair Blanch

Inspired by his 6-year-old son, Purdue University Fire Department firefighter and paramedic Blair Blanch spends his days off training other public safety personnel about autism. Mr. Blanch says, "I had no knowledge of autism before my son was diagnosed."  Now I understand firsthand how knowledge of the disorder can save lives.  Knowing that many people with autism are drawn to water, for example, is important for first responders. In fact, a majority of autism deaths are due to drowning.”  Mr. Blanch also shares, "People with autism need a routine, and they could hide or run away when that routine is disrupted, which could lead to another tragedy. Having the training to know how to communicate with a person with autism is critical."

For National Autism Awareness month this past April, Mr. Blanch led 12 training sessions for fire departments and law enforcement agencies in the Midwest. Last fall at an Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC) training session, he spoke with such passion that the trainer, Bill Cannata, invited Blanch to become a trainer himself. Blanch's program, which is called “Fire Rescue Autism," was born as a result. He and West Lafayette Fire Chief Tim Heath, also a parent of a child with autism, teamed up on this mission, and they are finding there is a significant need for this training in the public safety community. Autism effects 1 in 63 people today, and it is growing at a rate of 10-15 % per year.  It is not a matter of IF first responders will come in contact with someone with autism; it is most definitely WHEN they do. Fire Rescue Autism members have already trained over 20,000 firefighters and EMT’s in the US in Autism Awareness, giving first responders the tools necessary to mitigate incidents that they may encounter.

Mr. Blanch is one of only 12 trainers in the country who present to first responder agencies about autism awareness. He has already trained staff at fire departments, police departments and even major airports. Some participants have told him the skills he taught them were applicable within weeks of his training sessions.  Mr. Blanch’s goal is to one day reach every fire and police department in the state.

Mr. Blanch has been relentless in his efforts to educate first responders across the country on fire rescue autism awareness, and we commend him for the impact he has made not just in our local community but also across the nation.

Student - Kate Jones 

Kate Jones, a graduate student with a hearing impairment in IPFW’s Special Education Program, is passionate about helping college students with disabilities be successful in college, and her dedication toward her fellow students with disabilities has made a great impact on her classmates.  Through her work her classmates, whose training includes serving as teachers in Fort Wayne’s local schools, now better understand how to prepare students with disabilities in K-12 schools for college. Most of all, she has helped teach IPFW special education faculty how they can better accommodate the needs of IPFW students with disabilities

During her freshman year at a private college, Ms. Jones did not understand her legal rights as a person with a disability or know about the appropriate resources that could assist her.  As a result she dropped out of a class because a professor refused to provide written questions for oral quizzes. Inspired by her own experiences, Ms. Jones raised money to purchase technology in a local theater for individuals who have hearing and visual impairments. As an undergraduate student at IPFW, she worked as an intern at the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities to support students with disabilities on campus. Her hard work has been recognized with multiple awards, including Excellence in Education: Exemplary Role Model, Citation of High Merit, and the Outstanding Future Teacher Award, which was awarded by the Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. In 2008, Ms. Jones earned her bachelor’s degree from IPFW in Secondary Education, with a specialization in English and worked as an English teacher for two years before returning to IPFW to pursue her graduate studies.

With the support of IFPW’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, Ms. Jones recently completed a survey study of IPFW students with disabilities to investigate what they know about self-advocacy, self-determination strategies, laws, and campus and local resources that are essential for ensuring a successful college experience and graduation. She discovered that college students with disabilities could use more comprehensive information about campus and community resources and laws that enable them to receive appropriate accommodations in in higher education. She learned that a majority of students with disabilities begin college without knowing how to self-advocate and only learn this important skill through trial and error. Ms. Jones also learned that there is a lack of published and comprehensive resources that college students with disabilities can use to guide them through their college experience. Based both on her own experiences and the results of the survey, Ms. Jones is in the process of developing a handbook for beginning college students with disabilities.  She hopes the handbook will lead these students to have a positive higher education experience and successfully graduate. Ultimately, Ms. Jones hopes to work at a nonprofit organization or a local college to provide appropriate services and resources for individuals with disabilities.

Ms. Jones is a leader who has demonstrated the power of inclusiveness.  She has made a lasting impact on those around her as well as IPFW, and we are grateful for her efforts.

Organization - Purdue Univeristy's Eye to Eye Chapter 

Project Eye to Eye is a student led mentoring program that brings college students with Learning Disabilities (LD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), who describes themselves as “think different diplomats,” together with elementary, middle, and high school students who are also different thinkers.  It is the only national LD/ADHD movement dedicated to mentoring and is changing the conversation about LD/ADHD.  There are 57 Eye to Eye chapters within the US, and the Purdue University chapter is the only one in the State of Indiana.  The mentoring program is implemented through weekly one-hour sessions in which mentors and mentees work together to create art projects. At the end of the school year, Eye to Eye conducts an Art Show to which the Lafayette/West Lafayette and Purdue communities are invited.  The Purdue Chapter is now in its sixth semester of mentoring middle school children at West Lafayette Junior High School, and works with Lori Eubank, Special Education Teacher at West Lafayette School Corporation.  

Research on risk and resilience strongly suggests that the most important factors that determine life success for adults with LD and/or ADHD is not IQ or academic success, but self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-determination. The fundamental mission of Project Eye To Eye is to give hope to younger students with LD and /or ADHD by introducing them to mentors with similar labels who can demonstrate the power and importance of goal setting, securing individualized accommodations, and self-advocacy skills. The message from the mentors is simple: "If I can do it, you can do it."  By working with middle school children through the weekly art projects, the Eye to Eye mentors have encouraged these young learners to discover their own unique strengths and talents, value who they are, and understand that they can learn and thrive no matter what challenges they encounter. The weekly gatherings also foster caring, trusting relationships that encourage the students to continue to seek out activities and projects where they can make an impact on others throughout their lives.

The Purdue chapter of Eye to Eye has also grown in an exciting way by initiating study tables among Purdue University students within and beyond the Disability Resource Center community. These students have developed a support system that includes assistance with day-to-day concerns in addition to students’ academic needs. They support and follow each other through social media and study groups. Importantly, the Eye to Eye students continue to seek other outlets in which they can educate and support students with Learning Disabilities and/or ADHD.