Access Achievement Awards, 2014

The recipients of the Access Achievement Awards for 2014 were nominated by University of Minnesota students and Disability Resource Center staff. Here is what we had to say about the nominees:

Natan Paradise, Academic Adviser, College of Liberal Arts

Natan Paradise’s nomination for an Access Achievement Award was a collaborative effort.  Many of us who are Access Consultants in the Disability Resource Center have had interactions with the amazing humanitarian and CLA advisor who is Natan Paradise. We have learned that Natan truly gets to know and care about his advisees, and that he provides academic advising that is tailored to students’ unique needs.  He is adept at conveying a message of hope and solidarity—students know they have a strong ally in Natan Paradise.  He is also an ally to the Disability Resource Center. Repeatedly we have seen Natan creatively and energetically pursue strategies to minimize disability-related barriers in a way that can facilitate personal growth and does not compromise academic integrity.  Do I need to say that he is treasured by his advisees?

Last spring after a particularly inspiring experience, I resolved to explore with my colleagues and with students’ their interest in nominating Natan Paradise for an Access Achievement Award.  Not surprisingly, the response was overwhelmingly positive.  Two students, a parent, and two more Access Consultants have agreed to share their perspectives with you today. 

Student:

Natan was not only competent and experienced in his profession as an Academic Adviser, but he listened well, gave thoughtful feedback and never judged.  He demonstrated a belief in my abilities that no one in my life has been able to match.  As a student registered with disability services he made sure I had access to a fair education and advocated for me when I reached some road blocks with professors that were less then understanding about my condition.  It is really challenging to sum up all the ways Natan’s presence at the U of M has positively impacted my life.  My last class at the U to complete my degree presented a hurdle; I had run out of funding options.  Natan helped access a scholarship that paid for most of it.  In the thank you letter I wrote to the scholarship foundation I mentioned my sentiments about the University of Minnesota as an institution of integrity based largely on working with Natan over time.  I remember many times going into appointments feeling overwhelmed, stressed and hopeless.  Skillfully Natan would rearrange reality right before my eyes.  I’ll never forget leaving appointments like that with an action plan already in motion, a positive attitude and smiles.  I have much gratitude for Natan Paradise.  He has ability, dedication and skill that is all his own.  It makes me happy this is being recognized and celebrated!        

Student:

Natan Paradise has done a lot more for me than he needed to from the very beginning, before he was my acquaintance, before he was my friend.

 I transferred to the University of Minnesota and was assigned Natan as my CLA advisor, which I can now see as a crucial part of why I am still a student here. From guiding me through the process of registering for classes like a person who understands the stresses of a student, to guiding me to the Disability Resource Center when a certain issue became too much for me to handle on my own, Natan has been there for me and always offers his time for me to “just stop in and say ‘hi’

The thing that makes Natan Paradise different and worthy of many awards was the sincere interest and feedback he gave me on a topic that had very little to do with his job. When I asked him for advice on getting literature published he sat and walked me through what he thought I should do for 30 minutes after our regular meeting was over. I walk away from meetings with Natan feeling refreshed, but more importantly, I look forward to meeting with Natan. I am truly grateful to have Natan as an advisor and it is unquestionable that he deserves recognition for way he does his job.

DRC Staff:

Natan encourages, guides, supports and genuinely cares about each of his students individually.  The things I have come to understand about Natan is that his whole heart is in his job, he is open-minded and willing to put access for students ahead of many priorities which in turn prioritizes these student's health and well being, supporting a successful college experience and eventual graduation.

Parent of a student:

“God’s gift.”  “He gave.”

These phrases come to mind when I think of Natan Paradise.  Why?  Because after weeks (that turned to months, then years) of continuous, kind but firm counsel to both my son and to me, I could think of nothing more apt than to send Natan a note of thanks, for the gift he was (and is) to my son and to me.  His response?  A note of humble gratitude back to me, with a tribute to his parents who named him.  He told me that his name in Hebrew means, “Gift.”   When I think of the many reasons that Natan is deserving of this recognition from his colleagues and students, my first thought is because it is the gift he is to so many people: students, parents, siblings, friends.  The gift he has given our family has worth beyond measure.  It is hope.  It is encouragement.  It is recognizing the goodness and potential in every human being. And in this fast paced, competitive world, that is one of the most beautiful gifts we can receive.  It is instructive.  He gave, and we hopefully will continue to give to others (to ourselves) recognition of their (our) basic goodness and potential, regardless of their (our) weaknesses.  Thank you, Natan (and thank you, parents of Natan), for this, your gift to all of us.

DRC Staff:

Today we are highlighting university staff that go above and beyond and Natan certainly does just that but I wanted to take a moment to highlight a simple way Natan goes out of his way to be inclusive and welcoming. I believe this simple gesture has a large effect on the university community as emails make up such a large part of everyone’s day. The signature on the bottom of Natan’s emails read: "We are committed to providing a comfortable, inclusive, and respectful environment for all members of our communities. If there is information about yourself you feel it would be helpful for us to know, including disability or other accommodation needs, I invite you to share it with me directly or let the front desk know when you schedule an appointment."​

 Again, a simple gesture that can mean so much.

Student:

Natan Paradise has always been a shining beam of light in my career from the day I started orientation as a transfer student.  I know that when I have an issue he will not give me the "oh great" look we are all so familiar with but rather a "ok-let's find a solution!" look and it means more than I think he even knows.  At every meeting he takes time to let me know he cares about me as a human being as well as a student.  Natan has always kept his eyes and ears open for the best opportunities and interests for me as a person and student here at the U of M and I know he will continue that till I graduate and for the other students I have met who have him and love him as a person and an advisor.

Alison Link – Academic Technologist in Extension Technology

Technology is the new frontier. But for people with disabilities, we don’t always get to boldly go where everyone else has gone before. Once students get to the classroom, they may run into the barrier of inaccessible classroom materials. Enter Alison Link, Academic Technologist in Extension Technology. Alison saw the potential and the barriers created by e-learning... so she did something about it…

Alison educated Extension faculty and staff on the importance of creating and delivering accessible materials. She created “Readability and Accessibility: A guide to making e-learning materials accessible to all learners. This guide was distributed to all Extension faculty and staff.

By teaching others to create accessible PDFs and Word documents, Alison worked to make classroom materials much more accessible to students with disabilities as well as promoted much user friendly options for students without disabilities.

Thank you Alison!

Dr. Peggy Martin and Dr. Corey McGee - Faculty

Dr. Peggy Martin and Dr. Corey McGee, both faculty in the Occupational Therapy Program, are visionaries. They represent a willingness to cross formal disciplines and share their knowledge and expertise for the betterment of all at the University of Minnesota!

UReturn has a fairly small staff: There are seven staff who serve university employees with disabilities and medical conditions. To be effective in our work, we need a procedure to accurately, objectively, and methodically determine what is critical in completing individual jobs.

 So when we wondered how we could come up with up-to-date, accurate job descriptions for some of the units we work with on campus -- enter Dr. Martin and Dr. McGee --  Occupational Therapy faculty who had a classroom of students and the entrepreneurial spirit to get the job done. Dr. Martin and Dr. McGee coordinated a pilot program in which Occupational Therapy students analyze existing jobs, define physical and cognitive essential functions of those jobs, and identify potential ergonomic solutions for positions in the UM Libraries, Dental School, UM Rochester and Mayo Clinic Department of Recovery and Claims.

The results are “visionary” --  students get real world experience, UReturn gets objective data from which to determine better accommodations decisions, departments get an objective measure to define ergonomic risk,  and the university enhances its ability to retain qualified employees with disabilities and medical conditions using existing resources.

We are grateful for your work and for the work of your students!

Mark Powell – Office for Information Technology

Mark Powell, Assistant Program Director in the Office for Information Technology, is a true advocate for “advancing access for everyone”.

Mark’s consideration, inclusion and promotion of accessibility first came to the attention of the Disability Resource Center in the Fall of 2006, when he contacted the Computer Accommodation Program (CAP) regarding the implementation of a 2-factor authentication process for enterprise systems. Mark worked closely with CAP to ensure that the request for proposals for the authentication system and the finalists’ submissions included an accessible alternative for users with visual and motor impairments. Once a vendor was selected, he worked to develop and implement a process for requesting and implementing the accessible alternative.

Beginning in 2013, Mark once again became involved in including accessibility requirements and language in a request for proposal for a system-wide application for delivering PeopleSoft processes and data in an accessible form that will be useable on mobile devices.

Mark makes sure that accessibility is considered at the early stages of a project and invites the DRC to be at the table for these conversations so that everyone can benefit from the technology.

Thank you Mark!

Jeff Ogden – School of Dentistry

Imagine being an employee with an injury or illness that keeps you away from work for months. And imagine what it might be like to try to go back to work - in your old position or a different one - at a pace that your recovery allows. Imagine the costs involved - financial, emotional, social. Many of us can only imagine these. Jeff Ogden and his colleagues at the School of Dentistry have taken this two steps further: Jeff and the School of Dentistry have successfully piloted a return-to-work pathway known as transitional employment and Jeff is now working to make that opportunity available to the wider University. By focusing on the benefits of such a program, Jeff is also bringing all kinds of costs down and in this program, nearly everybody wins.

Angela Carter

Angela is an amazing partner in accessibility. In her course, “Queering Theory”, she recognized and made it a point to emphasize with the entire class that each individual learns differently and that each person has a responsibility in that . She showed deep insight into ways that people interact with their learning processes in various ways and sought to make her course and her classroom not only accessible, but welcoming for people of all abilities.

This depth of understanding led to hospitality, the importance of which cannot be overstated. Angela’s course and classroom were places where people could bring their whole selves openly and authentically. Because of this, students could more fully engage with the course and their learning. 

Jeremy Todd

Jeremy Todd leads the Classroom Management team in a way that seems to empower team members to do their best for the people they serve. This award names Jeremy but in my opinion belongs to the Classroom Management team for their attitude toward and pursuit of access. 

Classroom Management staff recognize the importance of access and it shows in their sense of urgency when an accessibility need is raised. I’ve had staff drop what they’re doing to run and fix a not-often used piece of technology in a classroom and separately, despite the unimaginably complex domino effect, OCM staff have happily, efficiently, and effectively rearranged classroom assignments to accommodate accessibility needs. OCM’s attitude of willingness and their recognition of the importance and urgency of access are worthy reasons for them to receive this Access Achievement Award.
 

Jenny Porter- OFYP

Jenny has a willingness - even determination - to make experiences equitable for people with disabilities. Over the past number of years I’ve worked with Jenny on accessible Welcome Week programming. I have come to understand Jenny as thoughtful, compassionate, and patient in her collaborative approach to accessibility. She seeks a deep and wide understanding of any given situation so that she can do her part to make experiences accessible and as equitable as possible. She is able to incorporate specific accessibility needs into the purpose of an experience

No one person or one department can make the University accessible. This can only be done through relationships and collaboration.

Jenny is one of the best partners we have and the University is lucky to have her.

Cecily Brown

Foreign language instruction at the University of Minnesota is immersive by nature and includes teaching and learning activities that are often highly visual.  As such, it is not uncommon for students with visual impairments to struggle with this instructional format

 Cecily made it a priority to ensure that student(s) with a visual impairment had access to accessible classroom material and could actively participate in the interactive learning environment of the class.

Amanda Filtz, Julie Sanem, Jeff Lesard, Justin Yarrington, Pam Wheelock, and Danita Brown-Young

Students:

Two services are provided to provided to keep U of M students safe:

1- Gopher Chauffeur is a service that provides students with safe rides home Thursday through Sunday nights.

2- Security Escort service known as 624-WALK provides walking or biking escorts for students on and around campus.

Deaf /DeafBlind /Hard of Hearing students now have numbers to text to request a safe ride or a walking or biking escort in and around our campus community. Thanks to this commitment from Danita Brown-Young, Pam Wheelock, Jeff Lessard, Justin Yarrington, Julie Sanem, and Amanda Filtz, the University community is safer and the well-being of our students is better.