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NIU Today | Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities (PCPD) Award winners announced

The Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities (PCPD) serves as a university-wide advocate promoting awareness, educating the university community and assisting individuals on disability-related issues. Each year, the commission selects an outstanding student, faculty or staff member and community organization to be honored for their efforts in service, leadership and advocacy to persons with disabilities.

“All of our award recipients have contributed to the success of our students, faculty and staff by being allies and advocates for persons with disabilities,” said Susan Swegle, who served on the PCPD award committee along with Susan Dalton and Lynda Ransdell. “This is the sixth consecutive awards ceremony, and every year we see more and more of the good that people do for others. It’s very heartwarming to know that these are our co-workers and students who are there to help others when needed.”

The recipients were honored by the commission at a reception on April 21 in Altgeld Hall.

Meet the 2022 winners!

Stephanie Richter, The Exemplary Advocate Award for Faculty/Staff
Through her advocacy for accessibility of digital course materials and implementation of the Blackboard Ally accessibility tool, Stephanie Richter, director of Teaching Excellence and Support, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning, has demonstrated an outstanding record of service and leadership at NIU to persons with disabilities .

“While Stephanie’s advocacy and leadership of Blackboard Ally is itself worthy of recognition, it is just one visible example of her extensive involvement in accessibility advocacy that dates back many years,” said Jason Rhode, executive director of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning ( CITL).

Rhode said with the implementation of Blackboard Ally, Richter has led CITL’s broader training and support efforts – in collaboration with other units across campus – to promote universal design for learning and accessibility of course materials for all students.

“Stephanie Richter is most certainly deserving of this year’s Exemplary Advocate Award for Faculty/Staff for her advocacy efforts,” Rhode said. “Both in the past and into the future, (her efforts) have a wide-reaching impact in ensuring accessible learning experiences for all NIU students.”

Joe and Barb King – Penguin Players, The Exemplary Advocate Award for Community Partner

Joe and Barb King co-founded NIU’s Penguin Players in 2014 when their son, Daniel, who has an intellectual disability and a love for musical theater, aged out of the DeKalb chapter of Penguin Project they had launched.

“I cannot praise the Kings enough for the work they have done and continue to do through Penguin Players,” said Laura Hedin, chair of the Department of Special and Early Education in the College of Education. “In creating a place for their own son and other adults with disabilities to perform and find acceptance, they also created a place for NIU students to belong.”

Penguin Players is a musical-theater organization for non-school-aged artists with developmental disabilities. The productions offer opportunities for artists to take the stage joined by a dedicated group of “peer mentors” – college-age performers without disabilities who have volunteered to work side by side with them throughout the rehearsal and performance process.

Since partnering with NIU several years ago, the Sycamore couple and proud parents continue to make a difference in the lives of others. In their roles as producers and coordinators, Joe (who is also the associate director of NIU Institutional Communications) and Barb help NIU student build leadership and advocacy skills as well.

“NIU students learn that their mentees are unique individuals with specific interests, preferences, challenges and triumphs,” Hedin said. “The Kings have been faithful advocates and supporters, and the results are truly remarkable.”

Ayleen Ramos, The Gregory Long Award for Excellence in Service and Leadership

Ayleen Ramos is passionate about diversity and accessibility, and her actions back that up. Nominators call her “an exceptional student” who is majoring in communicative disorders and has minors in special education foundations, family and child studies, and rehabilitation counseling.

“Her passion for serving persons with disabilities is evident by her choice of major and minors,” said nominators Allison Gladfelter and Milijana Buac, both professors in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders. “Ms. Ramos displays values ​​of equality, accessibility, and social justice inside and outside the classroom.”

Outside the classroom, Ramos is a member of the Adela De La Torre Latino Honor Society, NIU Mujer a Mujer, the Communicative Disorders Student Association (COMDSA) and is the bilingual student coordinator for the NIU Autism Caregiver Group.

“Throughout her years at NIU, Ms. Ramos has demonstrated exceptional academic skills, leadership skills, advocacy, and service to persons with disabilities,” Gladfelter said. “In recognition of her exceptional leadership and efforts to serve those with disabilities to create equality and accessibility while excelling academically, we enthusiastically nominate her for the Gregory Long Service and Leadership Award.”

Jehan Hill, Together Forward Award

The Together Forward Award is presented to an NIU faculty or staff member who has demonstrated leadership, advocacy and awareness for persons with disabilities throughout the course of the student’s college career. Graduate student Abdelrahman Osman said that describes Jehan Hill, assistant professor of counseling in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education.

Dr. Hill had an outstanding impact on my college career so far,” said Osman. “I believe she will continue to (do so) until my last semester at NIU.”

Osman said Hill is an advocate and mentor, who provides support and guidance when challenges arise.

Dr. Hill was constantly learning about appropriate ways to use the language, about ideal ways to provide accommodations and support, and better ways to be an ally for students with disabilities,” Osman said.

Osman said he will take what he has learned from Hill’s efforts and advocate on his own behalf.

“This experience taught me to continue speaking up for myself or seeking clarifications whenever I perceive any barrier that may my full participation or access to prevent any program or event,” Osman said.

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