Focus Awards for disability advocacy presented

March 5, 2010

2010 Focus Award winners (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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At Purdue’s 10th Annual Focus Awards, five recipients were honored Tuesday for outstanding contributions to furthering Purdue’s commitment to disability accessibility and diversity.

This year’s recipients were recognized at the Disability Awareness Month reception, presented by the Office of Institutional Equity. Diana Prieto, director of OIE, hosted the event and introduced the day’s speaker.

Kathy Nimmer, an English teacher at Harrison High School in Tippecanoe County, addressed the reception’s theme -- "Free Your Mind" -- in her keynote speech. Nimmer inspired attendees with accounts of persons with disabilities who freed their minds of limitations by seeking out possibilities that may have initially seemed impossible.

Nimmer, whose retinal degenerative disease has progressed to where she has almost no eyesight,  also spoke of the importance of embracing differences and freeing one's mind of judgments and preconceptions about others.

Nimmer closed with a resonating quote from an exemplary free mind, Helen Keller: "True, I cannot see the stars scattered like gold dust in the heavens, but other stars, just as bright, shine in my soul."

Prieto expressed her excitement for the month ahead with regard to disability awareness at Purdue. Effective March 15, a new policy requires that each Purdue Web site be accessible to those with disabilities. March also marks the start of Phase II of Purdue's 3-year-old Equal Access/Equal Opportunity Briefing Initiative, Prieto said. More about the launch is at More about both phases is at

Previous award recipients were invited to attend this year’s ceremony as special guests. Calling past and present award winners to the front, Prieto quoted anthropologist Margaret Mead saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The 2010 Focus Awards recipients, presented by Alysa Christmas Rollock, vice president for ethics and compliance:

Faculty: Marifran Mattson, associate professor of communication. Mattson began the Motorcycle Safety at Purdue Campaign in the fall of 2006. She also has been a major force behind a new law in Indiana that will increase insurance coverage of prosthetics.  As the chair of the Indiana Amputee Insurance Protection Coalition, Mattson worked for House Bill 1140.  This law, which will help current and future amputees, became effective on July 1, 2008.

Staff: Jodi James, disabilities services coordinator for the student support services program at Purdue North Central from December 2000 to September 2009, when she died. James played a key role in accommodating students with disabilities and providing high-quality academic counseling to students with diverse backgrounds. She also was instrumental in increasing disability access on campus by, for example, including Braille on signage. James' husband, Bobby James, and her mother, Barbara Vinson, accepted the award on her behalf.

Student: Richard Weatherford III, a recent Purdue graduate in his first year of graduate school. Weatherford is president of Advocating Disability Awareness to Purdue Students (ADAPS). He resurrected the group and co-authored the ADAPS constitution. Under his leadership, ADAPS focuses on a transition program that provides information regarding disabilities to a major corporation, resulting in grant money acquisition and social and professional network expansion. Weatherford, once a student of Nimmer, said that as his own visual problems have increased, he has found inspiration from Nimmer's example.

Alumni: Sharon Arvin Byrkett, Purdue alumna. Sharon started the movement to make buildings, restrooms, athletic facilities, and sidewalks at Purdue West Lafayette accessible.  She also helped change the attitudes of many administrators, faculty members, service providers and students with regard disabilities. Byrkett helped organize and lead the first annual Handicapped Awareness Day on campus. Byrkett, who died in October, was represented by her family at the ceremony.

Organization: Ford Dining Court opened in August 2004 as the first freestanding place to eat on campus. Although Ford employs nearly 300 part-time student workers, managers found they needed more assistance during the lunch rush.  Ford developed the program “Beyond Limitations: An Environment of Inclusiveness, Caring, Comfort, and Success,” which targets the hiring of physically and emotionally challenged individuals from the Lafayette-West Lafayette area. Barb Maughmer, dining court manager, accepted the award.