2020 Focus Award Recipients

Faculty - Dr. Shannon Van Hyfte

Dr. Shannon Van Hyfte is a clinical associate professor in the department of speech, language, and hearing sciences here at Purdue University West Lafayette. Dr. Van Hyfte has been with speech, language, and hearing sciences since 2005, teaching in the large on-campus audiology clinic and in the classroom. Over the last several years, she has independently designed and implemented a cochlear implant program in the Purdue University Clinic. Dr. Van Hyfte’s efforts continue to support the University’s commitment to disability accessibility.

Around 2016, Dr. Van Hyfte identified the need for better accessibility. At that time, we did not have the equipment or experience to provide care for these individuals in our community.  Over time, Dr. Van Hyfte has built relationships with surgeons, acquired the equipment and software for the clinic, and obtained the needed knowledge to help our community.

Dr. Van Hyfte has collaborated with cochlear implant audiologists, attending trainings, and traveled to conferences in order to gain expertise in this area of audiology. She also completed The Institute for Cochlear Implant Training intensive- a three month intensive online course.

Dr. Van Hyfte is an excellent clinician and with these new skills she is helping even more people with hearing loss. Her leadership in this area makes our on-campus clinic a better place for the community, providing a service that no one else in the area offers.

Her efforts in implementing this program highlight her dedication to those with hearing loss. Dr. Van Hyfte continues to provide the highest level of care to people of all ages, advocate for patients and families, and assist them in medical care and audiological treatment for their hearing.

Dr. Van Hyfte always puts her patients’ needs first and has shown leadership in implementing these services.  She is an outstanding clinician and advocate for those with hearing loss, increasing accessibility for those with hearing loss.


Staff - Ms. Julie Alexander & Dr. Amanda Bell

Our 2020 staff honor was awarded to Ms. Julie Alexander and Dr. Amanda Bell.  Ms. Alexander and Dr. Bell were Access Consultants for the Disability Resource Center. 

Ms. Alexander joined Purdue in July 2017 and a few months later, Dr. Amanda Bell joined the team. From there, the two of them worked together to envision and conspire on how to educate the broader campus community on disability awareness.

As full-time access consultants, Ms. Alexander & Dr. Bell worked with students and faculty on the determination and implementation of academic accommodations.  Their work is based on the Social Model of Disability which is informed by the academic field of Disability Studies. This model challenges how we have socially constructed disability and makes the distinction between “impairment” and “disability.” Impairments are individual and private.  Disability is experienced by people with impairments based on:  oppression and marginalization, segregation (think-institutionalization), and design of environments that are framed by societies’ view of normal.  Ms. Alexander and Dr. Bell have maintained their daily work load, while taking on the responsibility of launching the Disability Resource Center’s first public offerings focused on disability awareness programming.  Fall 2018 consisted of a “Disability Culture Series.   A series of 6 public talks and discussions with the following titles:

  • Disability: Questioning What you Think You Know
  • Death By a Thousand Papercuts: Ableism and Microagressions
  • Read My Lips: Deafness, Education, and Cultural Strife
  • Burden of Proof: Mental Illness and Invisible Disability
  • Nothing About Us Without Us: Ed Roberts and the Disability Rights Movement
  • The Problem in the Puzzle: Autism Speaks vs. the Autistic Community

This series was followed during spring, 2019 with four public offerings in March:

  • Disability Literature Discussion;
  • Photo Voice Project;
  • Disability in the Media Discussion; Student Panel Discussion.

Ms. Alexander and Dr. Bell continued to show their leadership in this area by coordinating with other Disability Resource Center staff and others across campus to expand our programming into the 2019-2020 academic year with the Fall 2019 “Disrupting Discourses: Disability Culture Series.

Additionally, it was through their vision and work that the Disability Resource Center hosted the traveling exhibit: “Patient No More” at the West Lafayette Public Library.  This traveling exhibit: “…uncovers the stories behind a turbulent April 1977 protest when people with disabilities occupied for 26 days the Federal Building in San Francisco demanding the implementation of the Section 504 Regulations.”  The Disability Resource Center has continued to expand their programming and it has become a fundamental part of campus offerings due to these two visionaries.  They have advanced the Purdue West Lafayette disability campus culture due to their early work and laying this foundation of diverse and inclusive dialogue.

Students - Ms. Shruthi Suresh & Dr. Ting Zhang

Ms. Suresh is a PhD candidate at the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. She has worked extensively with individuals with a wide variety of disabilities, including individuals with mobility impairments, individuals with visually impairments and individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Ms. Suresh’s thesis work focuses on detecting and predicting the onset of Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD) in persons with spinal cord injuries. AD can occur spontaneously due to various triggers and often causes debilitating symptoms including pounding headaches, acute anxiety. If poorly managed, AD can lead to death. The system developed uses machine learning and sensor data to allow the detection of AD and provide alerts to caregivers and health care professionals upon onset of symptoms.

Shruthi has also worked on projects to improve the quality of life of individuals with mobility impairments. One of the projects is WristSense, a flexible, active, 3D printed wrist orthotic which can recognize gestures to perform activities of daily life.

In addition, Shruthi has mentored and advised students in EPICS developing tools for individuals with disabilities. These teams have worked on developing projects for students with a wide range of disabilities. One of these projects, WilliARM developed a prosthetic arm for a 5-year-old boy born without his right arm; while another project works with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired on developing a lightweight, iPad-based Magnifier for the students enrolled in the school. Other projects include developing a ball for the Indianapolis Beep Baseball Association as well as development of a fishing rod for a 6-year-old boy with Hypochondroplasia. In all these projects, Shruthi guided the students with help from the Disability Resources Center (DRC) to gain a better understanding of the needs of the project partners. She helped them understand that individuals with disabilities should be treated equally and spoken to with equal amounts of respect as well as using people first language.

Shruthi also mentors an undergraduate student who is on the autism spectrum. She uses her experience from volunteering at an autism center in Jakarta, Indonesia during high school, to create a conducive environment for her student. Shruthi has made accommodations to adjust the research schedule to her students’ testing schedule and is sensitive to any environmental triggers which may prevent her student from performing to the best of her abilities. She also ensures that she is communicating with her to adjust the work environment accordingly.


In May 2020, Ting Zhang will be receiving her doctorate from the School of Industrial Engineering at Purdue University for her PhD thesis, “Multimodal Digital Image Exploration with Intelligent Synchronous Assistance for the Blind”, under the supervision of Profs. Duerstock and Wachs. She has developed a neural network framework to recognize the exploratory behaviors of users who are blind as they use a haptic-based multisensory system to interrogate digital images that she first developed as a Master’s student. She received first prize in the Purdue Sigma Xi poster competition in 2016 for this research resulted in her Master’s thesis “A Multimodal Image Perception System for the Visually Impaired”. This research was also filed as a non-provisional US patent “Multimodal Image Perception System and Method”.

During her time at Purdue, Ms. Zhang has been deeply committed in helping individuals who are blind to be able to perceive digital images that are displayed on a monitor in real-time. She has diligently worked with students, staff and others in the community who are blind in further refining this advanced system by developing an intelligent, computer assistant to assist users who are blind to more efficiently explore images displayed through her multisensory system. Her accomplishments are well recognized in the field of assistive technology and artificial intelligence. 

Ms. Zhang in collaboration with her advisors, and Ms. Suresh, co-founded a start-up company, HaptImage, to help the blind. The mission of HaptImage is to improve the education for people who are blind, particularly in the STEM fields where understanding images that represent scientific data is particularly abundant and instrumental in pursuing a STEM career. HaptImage was awarded the Purdue Foundry Black Award in Spring 2018. Ms. Zhang was selected to participate in the nationally-renowned NSF I-Corps program Fall 2017 to push this technology to the market. She also won the second place in social track of the 31th Burton D. Morgan Business Model Competition and the first place of the WomenIN Tech Pitch Challenge in 2018. More recently, she was elected to the 2nd Annual University Innovation and Entrepreneurship Showcase in Washington D.C. and demonstrated the technology for Congressmen/women and federal agency officials including the head of USPTO. Ms. Zhang has also cowrote several successful grants for funding this work including the Purdue Trask award, and NSF NSF / PFI-TT: A portable and real-time system for individuals with visual impairments to explore digital images.

Organization - The developers of the e-glove- Dr. Chi Hwan Lee, Dr. Byung-Cheol Min, Yeonsoo Park, Bongjoong Kim

People with hand amputations experience difficult daily challenges, and often lead to lifelong use of prosthetics hands and services.

Our honorees for the organization award developed an electronic glove, or e-glove, that can be worn over a prosthetic hand to provide humanlike softness, warmth, appearance and sensory perception- such as pressure, temperature, and hydration.  They collaborated with each other, and others around the country, to work on this new, affordable technology.

The e-glove uses thin, flexible electronic sensors and miniaturized silicon-based circuit chips. The e-glove is connected to a specially designed wristwatch, allowing for real-time display of sensory data and remote transmission to the user for post-data processing.

The team hopes that the appearance and capabilities of the e-glove will improve the well-being of prosthetic hand users by allowing them to feel more comfortable in social contexts. The e-glove is also cost-effective and able to be manufactured in high volume, making it a more affordable option than other technologies.