March 8, 2018

Focus Awards recognize those committed to disability accessibility and diversity

John Sheehan, Bradley Duerstock, Tom Hirschfield and Kelly Browne 2018 Focus Awards winners: John Sheehan; Bradley Duerstock; Tom Hirschfield, representing Pi Kappa Phi; and Kelly Browne. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons) Download image

Four pioneers of disability accessibility and diversity were honored at a reception March 1 as winners of the 2018 Focus Awards.

The awards were presented at the Disability Awareness Month reception, held in Purdue Memorial Union. Alysa Christmas Rollock, vice president for ethics and compliance, provided opening and closing remarks, and Erin Oliver, director of the Office of Institutional Equity, presented the awards. Marcelle Jones, program accessibility and compliance specialist for Digital Education at Purdue, was the keynote speaker. Awards were presented to a faculty member, a staff member, a student and an organization affiliated with Purdue in recognition of their commitment to raising awareness and furthering access to education, work and play for individuals with disabilities.

The award recipients were:

* Faculty: Bradley Duerstock, associate professor of engineering, has introduced students to the principles of design, evaluation and delivery of assistive technology for persons with disabilities in his IE 59000 graduate course. Duerstock inspires them to use their engineering skills and talent to improve society. He also developed the Purdue Institute for Accessible Science, in which his group explores innovative approaches to better integrate engineering strategies or technologies to improve the human condition. Duerstock has designed award-winning technology for individuals with mobility impairments, founding Prehensile Technologies LLC, to commercialize his inventions, and has worked recently on developing assistive technology that enables students with visual impairments to identify scientific images depicted on a computer screen.

* Staff: John Sheehan is the accommodations specialist in the Services for Students with Disabilities Office at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. In the fall of 2017, he created the Awetism Student Group, a name the students chose by combining the words “autism” and “awesome.” Sheehan guides students to the responsibility of advocating for others on the spectrum and serving as role models to break down the stigma and stereotypes often encountered by those individuals. Awetism Student Group biweekly meetings have three components: an educational activity, a social activity and a roundtable discussion, which have all worked to bring members of the group closer, work on communication skills and plan community events.

* Student: Kelly Browne is a junior studying speech audiology. As a child, Browne was influenced by one of her grandfathers, who was deaf and blind. She personally experienced partial hearing loss in one ear due to multiple ear infections. Since her freshman year at Purdue, Browne has been working with the School of Languages and Cultures to make an American Sign Language minor or certificate available. She is the secretary of Purdue’s ASL Club and is working to grow the reach of the club on campus. At a recent women’s basketball game, the ASL Club was invited to sign "The Star-Spangled Banner." The club is bringing Sean Forbes, a rapper who is deaf, to perform at 7 p.m. on March 30 in Stewart Center's Loeb Playhouse.

* Organization: Pi Kappa Phi fraternity established its own philanthropy, “The Ability Experience.” Established in 1977, The Ability Experience is a nationally recognized nonprofit with numerous programs educating undergraduates, alumni and communities about the abilities of people with disabilities. Every year, Pi Kappa Phi at Purdue does the “Journey of Hope” cycling ride from either Seattle or San Francisco to Washington, D.C. Purdue Pi Kappa Phi’s annual participation contributes to approximately $500,000 in funds raised annually by the national organization.

Writer: Kelsey Schnieders Lefever,
Source: Erin Oliver, director of the Office of Institutional Equity,

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