White House Honors “Champions of Change”
|President Barack Obama meets with Champions of Change alumni in the Map Room of the White House, April 26, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) Photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov
The White House has selected 14 individuals as Champions of Change in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Each educates or employs people with disabilities.
“STEM is vital to America’s future in education and employment, so equal access for people with disabilities is imperative,” said Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy.
“The leaders we’ve selected as Champions of Change are proving that when the playing field is level, people with disabilities can not only excel in STEM, but also develop new products, create scientific inventions, open successful businesses and contribute equally to the economic and educational future of our country.”
The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they do to serve and strengthen their communities.
The White House “Champions of Change” are:
Ralph Braun is the founder and CEO of The Braun Corporation. Diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy in 1947, he began using a wheelchair for mobility. Determined to maintain his independence, he engineered the world’s first motorized scooter and followed with the first accessible vehicle a few years later. His company grew substantially over the next decades, and today The Braun Corporation is the worldwide leader of wheelchair accessible vehicles and wheelchair lifts in the mobility industry.
Joseph Sullivan is president of Duxbury Systems, Inc., a small company that has specialized in software for braille since its founding in 1975, and which now employs two blind people and which provides braille translation software for more than 130 languages worldwide.
University of North Texas (UNT) biochemistry graduate student Nasrin Taei is developing a model peptide system to investigate the effects of mutations that cause sudden cardiac arrest in young adults. Her model system will be used for testing potential candidate drugs that ameliorate the structural effects of heart disease causing mutations.
Maria Dolores Cimini, PhD, is the assistant director for Prevention and Program Evaluation at the University at Albany Counseling Center and has served as the Principal Investigator for over $6 million in behavioral health projects funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the US Department of Education during the past decade.
As a professional and a parent, Virginia Stern has been working for more than four decades to raise expectations of persons with disabilities, their families, educators, and employers, especially employers in STEM. Since 1977 she was a guiding force of the Project on Science, Technology and Disability of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Steve Jacobs is president of IDEAL Group. He is dedicated to enhancing the accessibility of STEM curriculum for students with disabilities. Steve’s company offers software that translates printed STEM materials into digital formats for conversion into speech and Braille. Steve’s company also developed fully-accessible STEM-enabled eBook reading software. Over the past 3-1/2 years, his company has become one of the world’s largest developers of mobile accessibility applications with five million installations in 136 countries.
Rafael San Miguel began his career at NASA working on the Space Shuttle program, and has spent the past 23 years as a scientist for The Coca-Cola Company. He also serves as a board member of the Atlanta Speech School, an 80-year old private institution focused on meeting the needs of those with speech and language based disabilities. Rafael, who has been profoundly deaf since infancy, creates awareness about disability by focusing on ability as he inspires young people to pursue educations in science and math.
David H. Rose, EdD , is a developmental neuropsychologist and educator whose primary focus is on the development of new technologies for learning. In 1984, Rose co-founded CAST, a not-for-profit research and development organization whose mission is to improve education for all learners, through universal design for learning (UDL). Rose also teaches at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education where he has been on the faculty for more than 25 years. He is the author or editor of numerous books and articles on UDL, and the winner of awards from the Smithsonian Museum, the Tech Museum and others.
Christine Reich is director of research and evaluation at the Museum of Science, Boston, one of the world's largest science centers. The Museum of Science brings STEM to about 1.5 million visitors a year through its dynamic programs and interactive exhibits. She researches ways to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities in museum learning.
George Kerscher began his IT innovations in 1987 and coined the term "print disabled." He is dedicated to developing technologies that make information not only accessible, but also fully functional in the hands of persons who are blind or who have a print disability. He believes properly designed information systems can make all information accessible to all people and is working to push evolving technologies in this direction.
As a child in the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in 1949, John Boyer found that contemporary scientific material in braille was almost non-existent. He has never lost the sense of frustration he felt when the braille resources available to him were insufficient to satisfy his hunger for more science education. His first company was a Braille publishing enterprise which served an international client base. Abilitiessoft, Inc., his current company, creates open source adaptive software which makes Web pages available to blind persons through a Braille display. The current project, BrailleBlaster, will allow the integration of text with Braille graphics such as maps and graphs into a format accessible to blind people.
Dr. Dimitri Kanevsky is a research staff member in the Speech and Language Algorithms Department at the IBM T.J.Watson Research Center. Prior to joining IBM, he worked at a number of prestigious centers for higher mathematics, including the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, NJ. In 1979, he invented a multi-channel vibration based hearing aid, and founded a company to produce and market this device. He also developed the first uses for speech recognition as a communication aid for deaf users over the telephone.
Henry Wedler is a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, working towards his PhD in organic chemistry. Inspired by programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in high school and with encouragement from professors, colleagues and others, Henry gained the confidence to challenge and refute the mistaken belief that STEM fields are too visual and, therefore, impractical for blind people. He is working hard to develop the next generation of scientists by founding and teaching at an annual chemistry camp for blind and low-vision high school students.
Sina Bahram is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at North Carolina State University. His field of research is Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Sina's primary interest is the dynamic translation of interfaces, with an emphasis on innovative environments being used by persons with visual impairment (PWVI) to facilitate learning, independence, and exploration. His other research interests focus on using AI inspired techniques to solve real-world user-centric problems.