Focus Awards for disability advocacy honor dreamers, darers

March 10, 2014  

2014 Focus Awards

Focus Awards recipients for 2014 (left to right): Elaine Mosakowski (organization award); Timothy Leonard (student award); Jennifer Simpson and Lata Krishnan (faculty award); Pam Riesmeyer (staff award). Not pictured: Andrea Murray (alumni award). Shown March 4 in West Faculty Lounge, Purdue Memorial Union. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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A passion for access, inclusivity and opportunity shone brightly at the 2014 Focus Awards honoring efforts that further Purdue's commitment to disability accessibility and disability diversity. Under the theme "Dream to Dare," the awards reception contained many affirmations that much is happening and much more is possible.

The 14th annual awards reception, held in Purdue Memorial Union, opened with remarks by Alysa Christmas Rollock, vice president for ethics and compliance, who also presented the awards. Rollock expressed her joy in the day of celebrating, and she quoted a saying, "When it takes nothing special to meet special needs, then we will transcend the community of our dreams."

The morning's speaker was Gary Karp, an internationally known author and speaker on "modern disability," as he calls it -- a time when persons with disabilities are mobile, educated and employable, or even employers. "What it means to have a disability today is different from what it ever has meant," he said.

Karp, who is nearing 40 years of being a wheelchair user after an accident, said many societies now have the equipment and infrastructure for persons with disabilities to apply their own human adaptability and lead full lives. For him, much of what is still needed is adapted attitudes to "normalize" people's place in society. That is, people should begin with the viewpoint that a person with a disability can strive, fail and succeed like anyone else. To illustrate his points, Karp demonstrates juggling and describes the process of learning to juggle as an analogy to this viewpoint change.



Lata Krishnan and Jennifer Simpson, both of whom are clinical professors in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, have responded to student interest in clinical work abroad by developing the SLHS Zambia Study Abroad program. To do so, they contacted Alfred Mwamba, a Purdue alumnus and the only audiologist in his nation of 14 million people, nearly half of them under age 15. Hearing screenings are rare in Zambia.

In May-June 2013, the two professors and 12 students made a very successful first program trip. They screened or evaluated 450 persons at seven hospitals, homes or schools. Many were children with special needs. The undergraduates were able to conduct screenings, which on campus they wouldn't do until graduate school, and overcame the challenges of bridging a language barrier and adapting techniques to a patient's circumstances. Throughout the design of the program and the trip, Krishnan says, the goal was to listen to Zambian providers and fit the program to their goals. A 2014 trip is in planning, and a speech pathology component is being added with Professor Christi Masters. More about the program:


Pam Riesmeyer works tirelessly on several fronts to help Purdue University Calumet achieve full Web accessibility. She identified a useful tool for assessing the accessibility of the University's Web pages, helping Purdue Calumet move in February 2012 to fall 2013 from 38 percent of pages in compliance to 85 percent. She has played a central role in developing a software application and a nearly completed electronic information resources purchase/renewal process that ensures that all such applications and resources meet applicable accessibility requirements. She has trained staff, faculty and student workers, and she maintains open lab hours each week for questions and demonstrations. Among other purposes, this training helps ensure that newly developing online or hybrid courses are Web-accessible.

Though now a full-time web accessibility coordinator, Riesmeyer began with Purdue Calumet as a student in 1999, and later did freelance Web work on contract. That led to involvement in Web accessibility in 2005, a class on that topic in 2008, a passion discovered and her full-time job in 2011 after Purdue passed its Web Accessibility Policy in 2010.


Timothy Leonard was undeterred when he came to IPFW (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne) in 2011 and found no adaptive athletics, just as he is undeterred by relying on crutches to walk. He formed the Adaptodons wheelchair basketball team with both students in wheelchairs and others willing to play that sport. The team, the first actively competing at a university in Indiana, rapidly moved beyond local competition, using the motto "Go big or go home." The Adaptodons have played top opponents and recently won a tournament in Illinois. On a trip to Auburn, Ala., Leonard likes to recount, they made a rest stop and accidentally left without one teammate, who then phoned Leonard on the bus. After the teammate was aboard, Leonard used the incident to remind the team of how persons with disabilities have to speak up for themselves or risk being forgotten.

Leonard, who hails from Okeechobee, Fla., will graduate in May in English literature and writing. He has taken additional roles in campus life -- senator in the Student Government Association, manager for the IPFW women's basketball team, English honor society Sigma Chi Delta -- and was elected Homecoming king in 2013. He plans on graduate school, hopefully at IPFW.


Andrea Murray, as a Purdue Calumet student and alumna, has championed facilities accessibility and societal inclusivity for persons with disabilities. As a wheelchair user, she was known around campus as “the wheelchair warrior.” During her time at Purdue Calumet, she opened a lot of eyes to disability issues. She founded a campus chapter of Hoosier ADAPT; established the "Don't (Dis) My Art" show; led simulation events in which faculty and administrators experienced life in a wheelchair, with a white cane and/or with vision and hearing limitations; and generally connected people and heightened inclusivity. A ramp onto the theater stage was named for her in March 2008 for her enabling efforts. She graduated in May 2007 with a degree in communication and creative arts.

Murray has continued her advocacy as she makes a career as a public speaker, artist, writer and actress. She is a member of ArtsWORK Indiana and a board member of the Governor's Council for People with Disabilities, among other involvements.


Purdue's Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, housed within the Krannert School of Management, has graduated 104 participants since its start in 2009. That is part of a total of more than 700 nationally for EBV, which was founded at Syracuse University in 2007 and now involves eight universities. The EBV serves post-9/11 veterans interested in starting businesses. This program is conducted in three phases: online learning, a nine-day residency (more than 90 hours of scheduled instruction), and one year of mentoring. Of 26 graduates in Purdue EBV's 2012 class, nine started businesses within 180 days after EBV. One of them expects to be providing 50 jobs by 2015 in his recycling business.

More than 400 volunteers from the campus and community assisted with the 2013 session. Many find it as uplifting as the veterans do. In accepting the award for a contingent of more than a dozen, graduate assistant Zenita Subba, a MBA student from the Himalayan nation of Bhutan, remarked how passionate people are about EBV. The effectiveness of Purdue's program also has led the national EBV leadership to assist Krannert in starting an Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Family (EBV-F) program to serve spouses and caretakers of wounded warriors. Purdue EBV's academic director is Professor Elaine Mosakowski, and the administrative director is Melissa Evens. More about the program:

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