By Theo Schwinke
Created in honor of Mizzou’s former ADA coordinator, the Lee Henson Access Mizzou Award honors those who have:
- Responded above and beyond to a particular disability inclusion or accessibility concern or need on campus;
- Championed universal design to make Mizzou a more inclusive place for people with disabilities; and/or
- Demonstrated and modeled a commitment over time to improving the inclusion of people with disabilities or the accessibility of Mizzou’s campus and programs.
This year’s award winners are Jessica Gordon, Julie Elman, Sherri Ulbrich, Campus Facilities Design Services, Ryleigh Murray and Samantha Norman.
Staff Award Winner: Jessica Gordon
Jessica Gordon earned the staff award in recognition of her work promoting digital accessibility within MU Extension and thereby affecting thousands of people across the state.
“Jessica’s work is an example to everyone else, and we are so grateful that she decided to embrace the difficulty work of digital accessibility, going beyond her job description to advance access for persons with disabilities across the state,” wrote MU Director of Accessibility and ADA Coordinator Amber Cheek in her nominating letter.
“There are so many individuals working in accessibility, and I’m deeply touched that my efforts to advocate for digital accessibility have been recognized by the Lee Henson award,” Gordon said. “I will continue to support the intentional integration of digital accessibility into all our organization’s online learning opportunities and communications. Only then, can we leverage technology to meet the needs of all learners, anytime, anywhere.”
Faculty Award Winners: Julie Elman and Sherri Ulbrich
Julie Elman received one of two faculty awards for her teaching and service. In her nomination letter, MU Associate Professor Alexandra Socarides highlighted Elman’s disability studies course, “Disability and Sexuality in U.S. Culture.”
“Disabled students who have taken the course have often expressed that they felt a greater sense of disability pride and attachment to disability identity as a result of learning more about the shared history and culture of people with disabilities,” Socarides wrote.
“Throughout my career, I have incorporated a commitment to disability justice into anti-racist, queer and feminist research, teaching and service, and I am so honored by this recognition,” Elman said. “I was lucky to have had Lee Henson welcome me to Mizzou in 2012, and it is a privilege to further his efforts by educating a new generation of nondisabled allies and by working collaboratively to make Mizzou, and the world, not just accessible to people with disabilities but to transform it into place where they can flourish.”
The other faculty award went to Sherri Ulbrich for her 15 years of work in the Sinclair School of Nursing. “Dr. Ulbrich has been an integral part of seeking opportunities for students with disabilities in the nursing program and she is truly a trailblazer for inclusive education,” wrote nursing instructor Hillary Claunch in her nominating letter.
“She has advocated for students with disabilities to be admitted into the program and has worked with both students and faculty to ensure they have the resources they need to be successful,” Claunch wrote.
“This recognition would not have been possible without the Sinclair School of Nursing faculty’s commitment to accessibility, willingness to embrace change, and diligent work with support from the Disability Center,” Ulbrich said. “Receiving the Lee Hensen Award is a testament to the power of challenging tradition and old ways to enable students to develop their full potential as future nurses.”
Group Award Winners: Campus Facilities Design Services
“Design Services has been a driving force for improving accessibility,” Cheek wrote in her nomination letter. “This work has been continuing for many years, but in the past five years in particular, Mike Stornello and his team have been deeply invested in incorporating accessibility into every facilities project.”
Team member Emily Johnson said the award was a “huge honor.” “Our projects are rarely glamorous, but I relish in the challenges we face working within the university’s historic buildings,” she said. “The opportunity to make life just a little bit easier for people who inherently face challenges on a daily basis makes the work we do a reward in and of itself.”
Student Award Winners: Ryleigh Murray and Samantha Norman
Ryleigh Murray is working towards her master’s degree in public affairs. She recently served as an intern in the Office of Accessibility and ADA. She is also the director of national affairs on the MU Graduate Professional Council and serves on the chancellor’s committee for persons with disabilities.
“Ryleigh’s mere presence in a room has a positive impact for individuals with disabilities at Mizzou. She moves beyond accommodation, welcoming the people around her into a celebration of persons with disabilities, disability culture, and the work of disability justice,” wrote Strategic Initiatives & Assessment Coordinator for Assessment Mary Frank in her nomination letter.
Murray was grateful to receive the award. “It shows how my hard work and dedication to improving and advocating for students, faculty and staff at Mizzou has not gone unnoticed by those within the Mizzou community and those within my field,” she said.
MU senior Samantha Norman is vice president of public relations for the Mizzou Disability Coalition. “Sam steps up as a leader when she needs to. I have seen her use her open forward personality to continue enriching dialogue between students and faculty,” wrote Mizzou Disability Coalition President Sophia Martino in her nomination letter.
“Sam continues her advocating outside of Mizzou Disability Coalition by spreading awareness to other organizations she is involved in. Sam’s goal is to make Mizzou a safe and inclusive place for individuals with disabilities,” Martino wrote.
Norman said she was honored to accept the award. “Accessibility at Mizzou (and beyond) has become an integral part of who I am because of Amber Cheek and the members of Mizzou Disability Coalition,” she said. “I’m so proud of the strides we’ve made for accessibility and inclusivity in my time at Mizzou and look forward to continuing advocacy work in the future.”
The Lee Henson Access Mizzou Awards are presented by the Chancellor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities. You can attend the awards ceremony and the State of Accessibility address 4–5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 via Zoom. Register through Engage.