Student's ability in advocacy brings Focus Award

March 23, 2010

First-year graduate student Richard Weatherford received the 2010 student Focus Award for his commitment to disability awareness. (Purdue University photo/Andrew Hancock)

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Editor's note: Five members of the Purdue community were honored March 2 with Focus Awards for their outstanding contributions to furthering the University's commitment to disability accessibility and diversity. This profile focuses on one of the student recipients, Richard Weatherford.

Making a difference is what life is all about for first-year graduate student Richard Weatherford, who has made his mark at Purdue already and shows no signs of slowing down.

Disability advocacy and awareness is Weatherford's cause, but he did not immediately recognize his passion for this work.

After his junior year of high school, Weatherford was diagnosed with Stargardt's disease, a form of juvenile onset macular degeneration that affects central vision and leads to legal blindness.

"My advocacy work really picked up as I became more comfortable with my own disability," he says.

At the end of his first year at Purdue, Weatherford realized he had the ability to help students help themselves. He resurrected the student organization Advocating Disability Awareness for Purdue Students (ADAPS), co-authored the group's constitution, and has been promoting disability education and awareness on campus ever since.

"The thing I love about this kind of work is that I actually feel like I can make a difference," he says. "People work together; they check their egos at the door. There is a real sense of camaraderie."

Under Weatherford's leadership, ADAPS has emphasized building strong partnerships in the community and creating opportunities for people to learn about disabilities through presentations and other educational programs.

"Before I leave Purdue, I would love for ADAPS to have a program where students transitioning from community college to Purdue can seek help adjusting to all the differences here," he says.

Weatherford's commitment to disability awareness was recognized this month when he was honored as the 2010 student Focus Award recipient.

His crusade does not end with creating awareness. Self-advocacy is another of his concerns. He believes it is important for people with disabilities to take up for their own cause.

"I know it can be difficult for students to pursue this for themselves," Weatherford says. "Sometimes other people -- parents, caretakers -- have been there the whole time, and students aren't equipped to help themselves."

Through his dedication to disability advocacy and awareness, Weatherford has found a way to combine his cause with his future career. Although he currently studies history, he will change his graduate focus to rehabilitation counseling following the end of the semester. He hopes to work as a program specialist or disability counselor following graduate school.

"History will always be a favorite pastime," Weatherford says. "It just won't be how I choose to make my difference."