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   from the issue of April 6, 2006

  Center provides workplace, class options for UNL

Willing to accommodate


Sandy Sterkel is familiar with UNL's Accommodation Resource Center.

OPEN HOUSE - Aubree Wagner, a freshman nursing student from Lincoln, explains TextHELP, a program that provides reading and writing assistance...
 OPEN HOUSE - Aubree Wagner, a freshman nursing student from Lincoln, explains TextHELP, a program that provides reading and writing assistance for individuals with learning difficulties and mild visual impairments, to graduate students Megan Watson and Dharma Jairam during the Accommodation Center open house on March 31. The event drew about 60 campus participants who reviewed the resources available at the center. Photo by Troy Fedderson/University Communications.

A career secretary who has served the university for more than 30 years, she knows that the center provides options - both in the workplace and classroom - for faculty, staff and students with special needs. She knows the center offers computer programs that magnify or read aloud screen text, and stocks workplace items ranging from ergonomic keyboards to specialized push brooms.

More important, Sterkel knows center staffers are the reason she returned to work after a stroke three years ago.

"When I had the stroke, I didn't know what I was going to do for sure," said Sterkel, a staff secretary for Ag Economics. "I knew I was going to try to figure out some way to return to campus, but getting around was difficult. And my left hand was basically useless."

Inspiration came while she recuperated at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital. Sterkel can't remember if it was a friend or Madonna staffer who mentioned the Accommodation Center, but she knew it was an opportunity.

"I really didn't know much about the Accommodation Center before the stroke," Sterkel said. "But, when I heard about what they do, I decided to give them a call."

The Accommodation Resource Center provides resources, training and technology to assist faculty, staff and students with disabilites at UNL. Their support ranges from individuals with permanent disabilities (mobility impairments, learning disabilities, deafness, etc.) to those returning to campus after illness or surgery.

Located in Mabel Lee Hall, the center grew from a technology lab for students. The lab was created from a federal grant awarded in 1985 to UNL.

That initial purpose expanded 10 years ago when Christy Horn, UNL's American's with Disabilities Act compliance officer, and director of the center, petitioned the university for additional funds.

"I had been working with assistive technology for students since 1985," Horn said. "But the job changed to include faculty and staff. And, I felt if we were going to do a good job of accommodating student, faculty and staff needs, then we needed to have a facility where people could go and see the different types of technology available."

Chancellor Graham Spanier listened to the request and provided a $50,000 seed grant that allowed the center to expand into Mabel Lee Hall. With the funds, Horn established the Accommodation Resource Center, a showroom in Mabel Lee 125 displaying the range of technology available.

On March 31, the center hosted an open house to showcase services offered. About 60 individuals attended the daylong event, which featured students demonstrating the range of computer-aided technology available.

"We were very happy with the turnout we had," Horn said. "We did the open house to get people to know we are here. We continue to be a fairly well kept secret."

Horn said the center aids roughly 550 members of the campus community per year. That number includes about 200 faculty and staff members, and about 350 students.

Every faculty, staff and student on campus who has a disability is eligible to make use of the center. The first step is to establish an accommodation plan, which outlines each individual disability and what equipment is available for assistance. Horn said Karen Ketelhut, director of accommodation services, oversees the plans.

Horn said the majority of faculty/staff interactions are temporary, involving solutions due to conditions such as Carpel Tunnel Syndrome or individuals returning from surgery.

"For faculty and staff, we see what we can do to help them in the workplace," Horn said. "We let them know what is available, what would be useful. Then, we often loan out pieces of equipment for people to try."

If the solution is useful, it is up to individual departments to purchase the equipment.

During her recuperation, Sterkel contacted the Accommodation Resource Center. After the initial assessment, she started to use two items - Dragon Naturally Speaking, a computer program that allows users to do computer tasks through voice prompts, and a phone that clips to her ear.

"I have been typing since high school and I kind of wondered if I would ever be able to do it again," Sterkel said. "I couldn't imagine having to do this job with just one hand.

"And, I don't think I could have returned to work without this program or the Accommodation Center. They have been very good to me."

It is that type of result that Horn intended when she proposed the center.

"We do this to create environments where people can flourish," Horn said. "I've been doing this for 20 years and I consider it a privilege to serve students, faculty and staff."

Now, Horn's goal is to better promote the center.

"A lot of people learn about us through ADA supervisory training, but a lot of campus is not necessarily familiar with the services we offer," Horn said. "So, we're going to do a better job marketing, get our name out there so we can help as many students, faculty and staff as possible."



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