Vermont UCEDD Staff Recognized by University for Accessibility Work on Campus

August 2, 2018

On the morning of June 20, 2018, the University of Vermont recognized six outstanding staff members with the prestigious President's Our Common Ground Staff Award. This annual award "recognizes six staff members who exemplify the qualities of the University of Vermont's Our Common Ground, the statement of aspirations and shared values for the UVM Community." Benjamin Wimett, Assistive Technology Access Specialist at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI) was among the 2018 recipients who far exceed the expectations of their job descriptions to perform work, evoke change, and move our community to embrace the shared values of respect, integrity, innovation, openness, justice, and responsibility. Wimett works relentlessly to promote equity and inclusion within the University and the state of Vermont. "Trying to eliminate barriers for folks is not the easiest or most straightforward task," Wimett shared. "I'm grateful for not only my job and those around me, but I'm also grateful for my own barriers." In honoring Wimett, the University of Vermont highlighted both the crucial work he does every day for the state of Vermont and our community's pursuit of Inclusive Excellence.

Wimett was nominated by his supervisor and Assistant Director of CDCI, Darren McIntyre. This nomination was supported with letters written by colleagues and leadership within CDCI, the University of Vermont, and Vermont's Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. The citation presented by McIntyre during the award ceremony explains Mr. Wimett's commitment to the Our Common Ground values:

Ben's job is to provide specialized supports, training, demonstrations, and consultations for Vermonters with disabilities and aging-related needs. Integrity, respect, and innovation are all required when forming a relationship with clients and finding creative high- and low-tech solutions for their needs. It is Ben's own beliefs and dedication to justice, equity, and responsibility that make him an exemplary employee. Ben is excited to equip people with tools that allow them equal access, and when Ben works with a client, he also has a keen ability to bestow confidence. When clients leave his office, they have a sense of hope and possibility. In one such instance, Ben helped a father with various medical needs use an iPhone and a switch so that he could contact his son. Prior to Ben's sincere and innovative efforts, this man had not been able to call his son for several years as he lived in a nursing home away from his family.

Ben's efforts partnering with Vocational Rehabilitation, educators, medical providers, individuals with disabilities, and many others to improve the quality of living, learning, working, and playing for Vermonters is only the beginning of the work he has done that makes him deserving of this prestigious award. Particularly within the past year, Ben has also used his qualities of innovation, respect, integrity, justice, and most of all his sense of responsibility and openness to help improve the University of Vermont. Bringing his humanist perspective and lived experience to the table, Ben has facilitated discussions and action in the name of accessibility and inclusion on campus. He formed a committee within the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion to assess our own use of space, led an initiative to make a restroom not only power-chair accessible but also gender-inclusive, became an active member on the President's appointed taskforce on physical accessibility, and co-lead a professional development workshop during [email protected] to give other UVM employees the opportunity and passion to start assessing their own spaces.

Wimett's acumen for finding solutions for accessibility needs as well as his experiences as a power wheelchair user have been invaluable to the UVM community. He has helped identify prospective issues, and he has also shared the barriers he has encountered in order to educate and find solutions so that others may have access. This unique perspective helps Wimett to "slow down and figure out the small details," he said. "It's a lot easier to relate to people and figure out how to help them solve their own Rubik's cube if you've been down a similar road yourself." Mr. Wimett is not shy about pointing out issues of inequity or access, and he does so with integrity, respect, and out of a sense of responsibility. To Wimett, barriers are an opportunity for action, not an excuse for criticism and reproach. "The awesome feeling of love and support I get from my family and my extended family here at UVM is a huge reason why I am able to do the work I do and push on through storms aplenty with a giant smile, a lot of patience, and a lot of hope and excitement," he shared.

Mr. Wimett was able to demonstrate his constructive and collaborative disposition during the awards ceremony on the 20th. All recipients in attendance were invited onto a stage platform to receive their awards from President Sullivan, Provost Rosowsky, and Staff Council President Karmen Swim. A lift was provided for Mr. Wimett to ensure stage access, but as it rose, the lift caught on the edge of the platform, temporarily getting stuck. Amid some flustered faces was a relaxed and supportive Wimett. With some assistance from Tracy Roux, another Assistive Technology Access Specialist (Waterbury, VT), the stage and the lift were separated and Wimett was able to receive his award in front of all those in attendance, including tables of colleagues, friends, and family members. Afterwards, the elated Wimett joked about moving both mountains and stages. "I'm not upset or angry," Ben said. "I was able to give those in the room that had not been touched by somebody with a physical disability a real-life example of what it's like to have to overcome unknown challenges every day." Ben continued, "When you are faced with daily challenges and obstacles, you can choose to be afraid of them or you can choose to laugh and carry on in spite of them." The takeaway from the day was evident: In the effort to make our community more inclusive, we'll encounter unexpected issues, we'll learn how to fix them, and we'll be better for it tomorrow.