Staff member excelled in commitment to disability accessibility, diversity

March 18, 2010

Alysa Rollock (right), vice president for ethics and compliance, presents the 2010 staff Focus Award to Barb Vinson (left) and Bobby James, who were accepting the award on behalf of Jodi James. James was disability services coordinator at Purdue North Central from 2000 to 2009.

Download image

Many people go to great lengths to make sure their criminal records are expunged.

Jodi James, instead, bought a pair of handcuff earrings to commemorate getting arrested.

But her crime was not malicious. In fact, it epitomized the dedication James, disability services coordinator at Purdue North Central, had to her cause. And for that devotion, she was posthumously named winner of the 2010 staff Focus Award.

In 2007, James sat in on an American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT) action in Chicago. She was ordered by local police officers to vacate the premises and when she refused, was arrested. The charges were later dropped.

"It was one of the proudest days of her life," says her mother, Barb Vinson. "The policewoman walked up to her and asked her if she heard her order her to move, and Jodi said, 'Yes, ma'am, I did.' The woman asked her if she was going to move, and Jodi replied, 'No, ma'am, I'm not.' The police officer said she was the most polite person she ever had to arrest."

James was born with congenital myopathy, a form of muscular dystrophy. Yet she attended a mainstream school, earned her master's degree in student affairs administration from Ball State University and was employed to her ability.

"She was taught right from the beginning that just because she couldn't lift her arms didn't mean she couldn't do anything else," says her husband, Bobby James. "She found that the only way to fail was to give up, and she tried to pass on that feeling to every person she met."

At PNC, James organized a number of activities during Disability Awareness Month to help students, faculty and staff become more aware of and better understand some of the challenges faced by persons with disabilities.

"One of her first tasks was getting the signs on campus upgraded to Braille," James says. "She had bathrooms retrofitted for wheelchairs, evacuation plans set up for every building on campus for people with disabilities and gave tests to students with visual problems."

The Jameses even gave up some weekends and evenings to personally record audio versions of textbooks for students when the school couldn't find pre-recorded audio versions.

"I believe the motivation Jodi had to work with students with disabilities came from her own personal experiences," says Gail Barker, one of the co-workers who nominated James for the Focus Award. "As a person with a disability, she talked about her own experiences at the muscular dystrophy summer camps, and those were some of the happiest times of her life."

James received this year's Focus Award for helping others. And though she wasn't always able to do everything on her own, she was never led to believe she was disabled.

"She might have needed help at times," says Bobby James, "but she was never helpless."