Four honored with Focus Awards for efforts related to disabilities

March 11, 2015  

Focus Awards

The 2015 Focus Award winners are Blair Blanch, Jessica Huber, Ethan Head (Project Eye to Eye) and Devon Gamel (Project Eye to Eye). (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Four initiators of approaches to furthering Purdue's commitment to disability accessibility and disability diversity received Purdue's annual Focus Awards on Tuesday (March 3) at a reception kicking off Disability Awareness Month. This year’s theme highlighted "Livable Communities."

The 15th annual awards reception, held in Purdue Memorial Union, was presented by the Office of Institutional Equity. Alysa Christmas Rollock, vice president for ethics and compliance, presented the awards. The keynote speaker was Brian Petraits, senior manager of industries at Bosma Enterprises and a Purdue alumnus.

The Focus Awards for 2015 were given to the following:

* Faculty: Jessica Huber, associate professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences. Huber is chief technology officer of SpeechVive Inc., a company whose behind-the-ear smart device helps people with Parkinson's disease speak more loudly and communicate more effectively. It is available at 19 locations throughout the nation. Huber developed the technology based on her research to improve communication and the quality of life in older adults and people with degenerative motor diseases.

* Staff: Blair Blanch, firefighter and paramedic at Purdue University Fire Department. Inspired by his 6-year-old son with autism, Blanch spends his days off training other public safety personnel about autism. Blanch is one of only 12 trainers in the country who present to first responder agencies about autism awareness. The training program is called "Fire Rescue Autism." He has trained over 20,000 staff at fire departments, police departments and even major airports across the country.

* Student: Kate Jones, graduate student in Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne's Special Education Program. As an undergraduate student at IPFW, Jones worked as an intern in the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities to support students with disabilities on campus. As a graduate student, Jones recently completed a survey study of IPFW students with disabilities to investigate what they know about self-advocacy, self-determination strategies, laws, and campus and local resources that are essential for ensuring a successful college experience and graduation. Based on her own experiences as a student with a hearing impairment and the results of the survey, Jones is developing a handbook for beginning college students with disabilities. Jones's hard work has been recognized with multiple awards, including the Indiana Association of Colleges for Teacher Education's Outstanding Future Teacher Award.

* Organization: Project Eye to Eye. Project Eye to Eye is a national student-led mentoring program that pairs college students with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with younger students who have been similarly diagnosed. Mentors demonstrate the power and importance of goal setting, securing individualized accommodations, and self-advocacy skills. The mentoring program is implemented through weekly one-hour sessions in Purdue students and their mentees work together to create art projects, culminating with a public art show. The Purdue chapter, which is the only chapter in Indiana, is now in its sixth semester of mentoring middle school children at West Lafayette Junior High School.  The chapter also has initiated study tables among Purdue students within and beyond the Disability Resource Center community. 

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