Access Achievement Awards, 2015

The recipients of the Access Achievement Awards for 2015 were nominated by University of Minnesota students and Disability Resource Center staff. Here is what we had to say about the nominees:

Joseph Dahip, Campus Operations, Fleet Services/Paratransit

Joseph Dahip is the Interim Associate Director for Transit and Fleet.  Within that position lies the responsibility to oversee the U of M Paratransit Service. Joseph has done so with fervor.  The U’s Paratransit Service began in the mid 90’s, with 1 driver, 1 van, and weekday service hours between 8 and 5.  I remember being asked by coworkers to encourage ridership in order to keep the service busy enough to justify its existence.  That was then; this is now.  Paratransit employs 3 full-time drivers and operates 3 accessible vans.  Any 2 of which are in operation from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm, Mon-Fri.  Joseph also worked to develop an online reservation system, which makes scheduling rides easier and more convenient for many riders.

Joseph oversees training for paratransit drivers and will oversee the provision of accessible vans and training for Gopher Chauffeur drivers as that service now becomes accessible.  Those of us who use other paratransit services know how important this is. Finally, I recently discovered that our paratransit service has been the deciding factor in some students’ choice to attend the University of Minnesota.

Sara Dion, Student Services, College of Veterinary Medicine

It is with great pleasure that I introduce our next Access Award recipient, Sara Dion. Sara has been my partner in implementing reasonable accommodations for College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) students with disabilities for the past several years.

As you heard earlier, last year the DRC administered more than 6,200 accommodated exams…. most of these were administered in the DRC Testing Center. However, what you may not know is that offering accommodated tests near their instructors and home departments allows students the opportunity to ask questions and creates a similar experience to that of their peers.

Sara understands the importance of students testing at the CVM. She works directly with CVM students and faculty to implement testing accommodations and coordinates proctoring on the St. Paul campus where CVM is located. Sara’s direct and detailed communication with students and faculty facilitates a smooth process and saves students’ time from having to travel to the DRC Testing Center located on the Minneapolis campus. 

Sara’s warm and professional demeanor puts students at ease in what is often an anxiety provoking situation. One student summed up Sara’s contribution to students with disabilities to say “I don’t know how I would have succeeded without Sara’s calm, encouraging, support while arranging my testing accommodations”.

Sara continuously demonstrates that she is a strong partner to the Disability Resource Center. She actively seeks out ways to more effectively facilitate testing accommodations, served as the key contact for faculty in exploring ways to make veterinary medicine classes more accessible for a hard of hearing student, and seeks out training to learn more about disability, equity, and diversity issues. Thank you Sara.

Laura Lott, Public Health Specialist, UMD Environmental Health and Safety

Laura Lott is a Public Health Specialist in the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, passionate about keeping University of Minnesota Duluth employees safe in their work environment and she has a keen eye for noticing when employees and their environments could benefit from assistance from U Return.


Laura is well known and trusted in her Duluth community and frequently people turn to her with problems they are having as a result of a medical condition or disability. Injury prevention and finding ergonomic solutions for better wellbeing/health and productivity are the mainstays of her job. She goes above and beyond this on a daily basis. She often assists employees in connecting with our office in order to begin the interactive process toward workplace accommodations. She is a great collaborator who frequently seeks ways for offices to better work together to improve the wellbeing of employees. She is supportive of the role of U Return's access consultants, and respects the confidentiality of medical information involved with our office.

Laura has helped ensure accessibility of physical spaces and has supported policies and education about service and emotional support animals on campus. Her team spirit is an invaluable asset to DRC/UR's presence at UMD! Thank you for all you do Laura!

Karen Miksch, Associate Professor, Organizational Leadership and Policy Development

There are numerous reasons that I nominated Karen Miksch for this award. I am a grad student in OLPD’s master of higher ed program and I live with the mental health conditions depression and anxiety. My first semester of graduate school was one of the most difficult times of my life: I started living on my own, began a new assistantship, and watched pancreatic cancer slowly take my dad’s life until he passed away in early November. I was mentally and emotionally overwhelmed.

          From the first class I had with Karen she was kind, funny, approachable, and wanted to help her students succeed in class any way she could. At the beginning of the semester I met with Karen privately to discuss my disability and accommodation letter. She was very understanding which made it easy for me to talk to her about what was going on in my life and how she could best accommodate me during the semester. She was very responsive, supportive, and open to my accommodations and when it came time to write my final paper, she worked with me to develop a game plan for how I could finish it.

          I am proud to say that I finished the course with an ‘A’, but it definitely would not have been without Karen’s understanding and willingness to accommodate my needs during a very difficult period in my life. Karen is an outstanding professor who exemplifies the spirit of the Access Achievement Award and I’m thrilled to present it to her.

Joseph Sevcik, Information Technology Manager in Computer Science and Engineering - IT

Joe Sevcik, Information Technology Manager in Computer Science and Engineering - IT is an ally who sees barriers and problem-solves to work around them.  When Joe saw that blind Computer Science majors did not have the same access as nondisabled students to lab printers, he worked with the DRC to purchase and place a Braille printer in the Computer Science lab. Now blind Computer Science majors have equitable access to  Braille materials via the printer everyday, including weekends,  instead of having to wait to use the DRC’s Braille printer which was only available from 8-4:30 on Mondays and Fridays.  DRC would like to acknowledge the awesome attitude and dedicated efforts of Joseph Sevcik and his staff to advance access for University of Minnesota students. Thank you Joe!

Nikki Shultz, Assistant Dean, College of Biological Sciences  

We team interpreted a freshman seminar lead by Nikki Schultz which included a study abroad portion. As interpreters, our goal is to not only provide equitable access to the language happening, but also to work as allies striving for a wholly inclusive environment: attitudinally, culturally - so that everyone can share in the experience and learn from one another.

Even though she admittedly had no previous knowledge or experience working with interpreters or Deaf/hard of hearing students, Nikki was immediately on board. With an open mind and heart, she made it her mission to work WITH all of us to figure out how to make this experience successful and enriching for all. As professionals, we always strive for this kind of partnership on campus. Achieving this partnership can often be a struggle---but with Nikki, it came easily.

While we could list MANY specific instances in which Nikki acted as an ally, it was really her attitude that made all the difference. When trying to articulate this attitude, one anecdote comes to mind:

While visiting one of the historic sites we toured, the group was ushered immediately into a theater. An introductory film began playing that was chock-full of foreign names, dates, complex historical concepts--non-captioned and in a completely dark room. This is your basic interpreter nightmare. As we scrambled to provide access, one of us started interpreting while the other shone their phone flashlight so the student could see our signs. It wasn’t going well. As the movie progressed, Nikki approached the student with a paper in her hand. Without prompting, she had approached the front desk to ask if the movie was captioned, and--when learning it wasn’t--got a copy of the transcript to give to our student. THIS is the behavior of someone who “gets it”.

After that, Nikki said, “It’s like drinking from a firehose.” Meaning, now that she’s SEEN how environments can be disabling for people, she couldn’t help but notice it everywhere she goes. Not only did she fight for access while working with this one student this one semester, but she will plan on continuing some of these newly adopted practices, such as advocating for captions, and assessing assignments and environments for accessibility, in the future--regardless of who is in the room--as a shift towards inclusive/universal design.

Social Justice work teaches us that an ally is one who sees something, says something, and does something. Nikki, has become that ally. We want to thank Nikki for all she has done and what we know she will continue to do.

Marissa Smith, Coordinator for Leadership and Training, Orientation and First Year Programs

As Coordinator for Leadership Training & Development who trains the student leaders for Orientation and Welcome Week, we've found that Marissa Smith went above and beyond just sitting in on the trainings that the Disability Resource Center provided to student leaders.

First of all, after Orientation Leader training, she met with us to discuss strategies to encourage orientation leaders to continue thinking about access.

During the training, it came up that many icebreaker activities may be inaccessible to students with disabilities, so Marissa led the orientation leaders to design more accessible ice breaker activities. The purpose:  to teach students to plan for access.

It's clear in our interactions with Marissa that she is very passionate about identifying and eliminating barriers to access and the concept of universal design.

Marissa had an active role in arranging accommodations for individual students during Welcome Week and the student leaders' roles in providing access and accommodations.

As an example, while we were leading a general training about working with students with disabilities for the Welcome Week leaders, Marissa asked them to consider how to make their own training activities more universally accessible. She pushed them to think of how to redesign their training with access in mind, so that in the future, students with disabilities could serve as leaders also.

We consider Marissa a key partner in providing access for students with disabilities. She consistently works to create a welcoming environment for students with disabilities as they enter the University of Minnesota. Marissa also empowers students who are leaders throughout the University to become allies and plan for access for all students. Thank you Marissa!

Chris Stevens, Campus Operations, UMD Facilities

In his role in Facilities Management at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Chris Stevens has consistently demonstrated his ability and willingness to think outside the box, as it relates to supervising staff with disabilities.

Chris understands the need to implement reasonable accommodations and shares this understanding with the supervisors that he oversees. He has invited UReturn to meet with supervisors to discuss the interactive process and explore possible alternate ways of approaching what can seem like insurmountable problems.

Chris has helped shift the culture from "Employees need to be at 100% before they can work" to "Is it possible to meet our injured or disabled employee's needs and still get the job done?"

Chris is a wonderful ally who seeks creativity to get the job done. One example is his support for a new Transitional Work program at University of Minnesota Duluth. Thank you Chris for all you do!

Enterprise System Upgrade Implementation Team

Kemal Badur, Senior Director, Office of Information Technology

Barbara Mueller, Project Manager, OIT

William Dana, Head of Portal Team

Kim Doberstein, Portal Developer, OIT

Kevin Henninger, Business/Systems Analyst, OIT

Starting in October 2014, the Disability Resource Center began working alongside OIT employees to make the new Enterprise Systems Upgrade Project web pages accessible to people with disabilities.  This team worked through countless political, technical, and design details in an effort to make the Upgrade accessible to people with disabilities. With the stress of the Upgrade all around, Barbara Mueller, Kevin Henninger, Kemal Badur, William Dana and Kimberly Doberstein came together with to manage what needed to be done – and often to do it themselves.

The many PeopleSoft pages and applications on which students and employees rely would not be as accessible today if it were not for the dedication, hard work and persistence of the many people involved in this project.  We are grateful for OIT’s commitment and support in this important work. Most notably, we would like to thank Barbara, Kevin, Kemal, William and Kim for all you’ve contributed to the accessibility of this upgrade. You skillfully shepherded the project and its thousands of details, navigated numerous contracts and vendors, and wrangled resources from all corners of the University. You have given your gifts, learned new skills and expertise, and pushed things forward when they needed to be pushed. Our work together continues and we’re thrilled to be in partnership with you. Thank you for all you’ve done and continue to do.

Sue A. Kroeger Lifetime Achievement Award, Sue Kroeger, Director and ADA/504 Officer, Disability Resource Center, University of Arizona

Today is a wonderful day. In addition to honoring these 14 amazing Access Achievement award recipients, today is the day we present the first-ever Dr. Sue A. Kroeger Lifetime Achievement Award. The purpose of this Lifetime Achievement Award is to honor individuals who have made significant strides in advancing access for people with disabilities at the University of Minnesota or who have made important, paradigm-changing strides in the field of disability and who have ties to the University of Minnesota. It represents many years of significant work on behalf of people with disabilities.

It is also important to note that the award itself is a framed print by Renee Granger-Smith, a Minnesota artist with a disability.

Now please welcome Linda Wolford who will introduce Sue Kroeger, and this important, and well-deserved award.

It is a great honor and privilege to be able to present this inaugural award to Dr. Sue Ann Kroeger – an award that is long overdue. Sue began her career in higher education disability services as the first permanent director of what was known at the time as the Office for Students with Disabilities in 1985.

I began working with Sue who hired me as a Counselor/Advocate in 1989, right before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Things looked a lot different then than they do now. The office was located in Johnston Hall with a satellite office in Nicholson Hall. Initially, the office only served students with disabilities. By 1993, services expanded to include faculty and staff with disabilities. This changed happened largely because Sue recognized that faculty and staff could be better served in one office because there are so many similar issues and commonalities. Also, the office consisted of only about a dozen staff and a few graduate students – nothing like the current staff of 65 largely due to the growth that happened under Sue’s leadership. Why this growth? Because Sue K., as we like to call her, put disability on the map at the University of Minnesota. She single-handedly pushed the envelope so that disability became important to nearly every part of this campus and beyond. She expanded the scope of service and many more people sought these services.

Sue had a vision that was not to be thwarted. Under her leadership, accessible buildings that were truly accessible were created. Those which were not accessible became accessible due to her constant pressure to improve access. The first Disabled Student Cultural Center (the DSCC) in the world opened its doors In Coffman Union in 1991 where it still remains today. She was the true initiator of this coming to fruition by collaborating with disabled student leaders to make the dream a reality. She continued to support the DSCC and even secured funding to empower students with disabilities to become leaders themselves. In 1993, the University hosted “Disabled and Proud: A National Gathering of Student Leaders with Disabilities.” It included a performance from the “Tragic but Brave” artists with disabilities from Great Britain on their “Piss on Pity” tour.

Sue was one of the strongest leaders that I have ever met at the University of Minnesota. She successfully pushed for equal access for people with disabilities at the University. One would think that Sue must be scary or very brazen to accomplish all the things that she did but she is not. She successfully got people to want to provide access or as she would say “level the playing field” for people with disabilities by convincing people that it was the right thing to do. Sue utilized diplomacy and intelligence while articulately framing the issues and using the art of “dipsy doodling” to accomplish her agenda. She networked with the right people and created what was called “the guerrilla group.” This group was made up of key campus leaders (some of which are here with us today) who worked to create a better world for all of us with disabilities and other marginalized groups on this campus. There was not one administrator whom I ever met that had a bad word to say about Sue but held her in the highest esteem for her as a person and leader of the Disability office on this campus.

Besides being an effective administrator, Sue is also an amazing individual who was greatly respected by her staff. Her door was always open (and not just to use the Macintosh computer that was the only computer in the office at the time!) for anyone that needed to run an idea by her, to vent or sometimes just to listen. She was always supportive and helped staff grow as professionals and as disability service providers. She also taught, and still does teach, people about the importance of disability studies and going beyond the law to looking at disability as a social justice issue. She would not tolerate being treated as a 2nd class citizen or seeing others experiencing the same. For many of us, Sue was the role model that we needed to gain confidence that we too could grow and develop as professionals with disabilities and we are grateful to Sue for serving as such a powerful mentor.

Besides all of the other wonderful characteristics that I have talked about, I do not want to forget about Sue’s sense of humor and also her intolerance of “schmaltz.” There was a lot of laughter that happened in the office as sometimes we would bond together to see the ridiculousness that sometimes existed in the world. If we were able to laugh about it, then we were able to conquer it. Also, we had many conversations about the latest movie with disabled characters and they would have to pass Sue’s “schmaltz test.” This meant that they could not be “super Crips”, pitiful, tragic or brave. They had to be people living their lives as she does – with dignity and pride as a person with a disability.

For these and many other reasons, we present the first “Dr. Sue A. Kroeger Lifetime Achievement award.”