March 4, 2016  

Four honored for efforts promoting inclusion and accessibility for those with disabilities

Focus Award recipients

The 2016 Focus Award recipients are Linda Finke, executive director of health clinics and special programs at IPFW; Eric Norman, chief of staff, associate vice chancellor and dean of students at IPFW; Carla Zoltowski, co-director of the EPICS program;  Kyle McNulty, undergraduate student in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Fizza Haider, Purdue alumna of the College of Health and Human Sciences. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Four pioneers of inclusion and accessibility of those with disabilities were honored at a reception Tuesday (March 1) as winners of the 2016 Focus Awards. This year's theme was "Inclusion is Within Everyone's Ability."

The Office of Institutional Equity presented the 16th annual awards reception, held in Purdue Memorial Union. Alysa Christmas Rollock, vice president for ethics and compliance, presented the awards. Randall Ward, newly appointed director of the Disability Resource Center and associate director of Student Success at Purdue, was the keynote speaker.

The award recipients were:

* Staff: Carla Zoltowski is the co-director of the EPICS program, which challenges teams of undergraduate students to design, build and deploy real systems to solve engineering-based problems for local community service and education organizations. Zoltowski is an advocate for pushing students to find engineering solutions to a myriad of accessibility issues faced by individuals with disabilities. She also created an accessible summer camp experience for Purdue students in partnership with Camp Riley. Additionally, she has led more than a dozen workshops for faculty on a national level to help identify opportunities of addressing issues of access and accessibility as a way to teach design.

* Alumni: Fizza Haider, a Purdue alumna of the College of Health and Human Sciences, was born in Lahore, Pakistan, with impaired vision. She eventually lost her sight because of a degenerative condition shortly after graduating from high school. In June 2014 she worked as an assistant at the Assistive Technology Center. While there, she worked tirelessly to make Purdue's technology infrastructure more accessible to individuals with disabilities. She also worked as an academic resource guide for Purdue Promise. She helped first-generation students who were on academic review use resources, develop good study habits and generally achieve better academic footing. Haider also served as a success mentor for incoming first-year students for the College of Health and Human Sciences for academic 2014-15.

* Student: Kyle McNulty is an undergraduate student in Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is a member of the St. Vincent Advancement Team in EPICS and he also helped found the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired team as a spinoff of his SVAT project. Kyle helped initiate and lead through development a multi-line electronic braille display, which has been described as a Kindle for the blind. His project hopes to make a vast catalog of braille texts available electronically, which could help end low literacy rates among the blind because of poor availability of braille texts. Available technologies limit current braille e-readers to a single line of text, and many attempts to create a multi-lined reader have failed. Kyle's aptitude for design, combined with his drive to bring accessibility to students with disabilities, has helped the project transform from one that was too complex for undergraduate students to one that has developed a successful prototype with true commercialization potential.

* Organization: The Bridges to Education and Careers for Students with Intellectual Disabilities program at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne provides opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities to pursue post-secondary education through a structured curriculum. This program has been conceptualized, researched, developed and implemented by Linda Finke, John Niser, Eric Norman, Eric Wagenfeld, and Suzanna Yuhasz. The program offers a pathway into the hospitality industry and culinary arts with an emphasis on transitioning students into the workforce through curricular and co-curricular offerings, while being paired with peer mentors. The Bridges program is designed to fully integrate students into the University, while allowing multiple pathways in and out of the program to meet their individual needs all the way through matriculation and graduation. The implementation of the program has consisted of extensive outreach with students, families, businesses and vocational rehabilitation programs while connecting with other higher educational colleges and universities that offer similar programs. The Bridges program is also expected to expand to other career options, course offerings and on-campus housing, which would make IPFW the only school in the state with this option. 

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