Archive for the ‘disabilities’ Category

Peg Connell

Peg Connell

Peg Connell, director of Disabilities Resources, who is retiring in December, was honored at Tuesday’s Board of Trustees meeting. She began her career with St. Petersburg College in March 1998.

“Ms. Connell, throughout this time, has insisted on and maintained high standards for herself and her staff, which has resulted in several federal grant awards to the college and the establishment of the Able Trust Grant, which has placed more than 100 students with disabilities in professional, career-oriented employment since its inception two years ago,” Dr. Bill Law read from the resolution honoring Connell.

Connell has served as the president of the Florida Special Needs Association and the St. Petersburg College chapter of the Florida Association of Community Colleges. She was a founder of Florida AHEAD (the Florida Association on Higher Education and Disabilities) and served as the association’s president in 2011-12. She received the association’s Award of Excellence in 2013.

Connell will always be remembered for her work in establishing the highly successful Narrowing the Gulf annual conference at SPC, which brings more than 200 people to the EpiCenter each year to address the needs of under-represented college students across the state.

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Several news outlets published stories about the work of Michael L. McCauley, a graduate of SPC’s Orthotics and Prosthetics bachelor’s degree program, and O&P program director Arlene Gillis, who recently traveled to the Florida Keys with a group from the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge to conduct research on prosthetic swim legs.

The underwater study is one of four Gillis’ team is conducting with the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, whose missions are now part of the school’s curriculum, the Tampa Tribune reported. Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge has partnered with SPC to find ways of building better prosthetics. In addition, participants on this study took part in an operation with a group of young divers from the Tampa Bay area to help restore the Gulf of Mexico’s population of staghorn coral, which was nearly wiped out a few years ago, according to the article.

The News-Press, Stars and Stripes, the Key West Citizen and the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota also carried the story.

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Perhaps you take swimming in the water that helps define the state of Florida for granted. For amputees without legs, however, just getting from a beach chair to the water’s edge can be forbidding.

“When they go to the beach they have to take their leg off and hop to the water,” said Michael L. McCauley, a graduate of St. Petersburg College’s Orthotics and Prosthetics bachelor’s degree program. “We want them to be able to swim without a care in the world like the rest of us. That’s my goal.”

Chris Corbin and Evan Olson participate in last year’s Combat Wounded Veterans Challenge trip to the Florida Keys.

Next week, McCauley and O&P program director Arlene Gillis will travel to the Florida Keys with a group from the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge to conduct research on prosthetic swim legs. McCauley will observe amputees swimming with and without their prosthetic legs to measure their air intake, heart rate and buoyancy and how long it takes to swim certain distances. The results will help improve prosthetics built for water and thereby the quality of life for amputees who want to pursue active lifestyles.

Founded in 2010, the CWCV works to improve the lives of wounded and injured veterans through rehabilitative challenges and to further the science related to their injuries and treatment. Some of their recent trips have taken them to glaciers in Alaska, the depths of the Grand Canyon and the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.

SPC O&P students and graduates have joined these trips to conduct research, such as anatomical reactions to changes in environment; the effects of stress, extreme weather and altitude on prosthetics, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury and the effects of temperature change on overall pain levels, spastic moments in the lower extremity and hand function. McCauley’s love of the ocean has prompted him to focus on activities beyond land.

“There’s very limited research on underwater prosthetics,” said McCauley, who graduated from SPC in 2011 and manages an orthotics and prosthetics practice in Nashville. “Right now, they make swim legs just so they don’t rust. There’s so much more we can do, but we need the research.”

Technology advancements in just the past decade have helped transform modern prosthetics. Today, amputees can reasonably rely on their new limbs to help them conduct daily activities. Beyond that, however, sports like diving require specialized limbs that can be costly.

“Buoyancy is a pretty big deal,” McCauley said. “When we dive, we have to get neutrally buoyant. For amputees, we have to weigh the legs down so they can stay down.”

For his part, McCauley will focus partly on able-bodied swimmers to monitor their swimming styles, propulsion of kicks and angles of feet and knees. The information will help fine tune the mechanics used in the limbs.

The rest of the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge group will assist SCUBAnauts International, a group of high school marine science students, in cleaning, monitoring and restoring underwater coral reefs in conjunction with MOTE Marine Research Laboratory. The veterans will also mentor the youths in military-centric dive training and underwater navigation under the supervision and instruction of elite United States Army Special Forces Combat Divers.

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The Tampa Bay Times profiled St. Petersburg College’s Student Employment Project in an article earlier this month. The program’s goal is to “find employment opportunities that match the skill sets, majors and aspirations of graduating students with disabilities.”

Kelley Ferranti, who heads the project, was interviewed for the article. “All my students are just as qualified as any other student sitting in the classroom,” she said. “They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t capable. I never want a company to hire one of my students because they have a disability. I want them to get the job because they are the best qualified.”

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When Katie Bandel was ready for college, she wasn’t so sure college was ready for her.

 Born with a visual impairment, going to school presented a number of difficulties. Her high school experience had been less than positive, and she was worried that college would be just as bad – or worse.

“I was nervous,” Bandel recalled of her decision to go to college. “In the past, I didn’t feel there had been many actions taken to accommodate my disability. In middle school and high school, some teachers were accommodating, but others didn’t seem to care. I felt like the whole disabilities issue was swept under the rug.”

 As things turned out, SPC was a good choice for her. People at the college seemed to understand what people with disabilities needed to succeed, she said.

 “I was really impressed,” she said of her first impressions at SPC. “They offered me double testing times, and equipment was available to make things easier for me.”

 One example was a camera she could use in the classroom to record lectures. The camera is easy to manipulate, and makes images bigger and easier to see.

“I can move the camera around and see the teacher or the other students,” she said. “It helps me a lot. It has given me a lot more confidence.” 

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. But SPC doesn’t need a special month to keep the needs of people with disabilities at the forefront. The college has been steadily expanding equipment and services for students with disabilities, even as budgets and resources have been shrinking.

 Filling those needs can be a challenge; the population of students with disabilities goes up every year, and state and federal governments frequently increase their requirements for service.

Peg Connell, Director, Disability Resources in the department of Academic and Student Affairs, said students with disabilities deserve no special favors, but a level playing field – the ability to study and achieve while not being held back by their disabilities.

 Connell said SPC’s challenge is to serve students with disabilities while coping with staff and resource limitations.

 “We are not hugely staffed, and we find ourselves sharing staff more with Counseling and Advising and the MAP Centers,” she said. “Those are the conversations we are having now – how we can all work together and help one another to ensure student success.”

 SPC currently serves 917 students with documented disabilities, Connell said, and that number is expected to rise as enrollments increase and as more students with disabilities become aware of the services SPC provides.

 Another growth factor is expected to come from returning military personnel, many of whom have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other disabilities.

 Another student, William Marshall, has a unique perspective on SPC’s services for students with disabilities – he has been attending classes at the Clearwater Campus for 15 years, and has seen many changes.

 “The department that handles the equipment does a great job,” he said. “Also, there’s a tutoring department that offers all kinds of help.”

 Marshall singled out Aimee Stubbs, a learning specialist at the campus.

 “She bends over backwards to help and she’s really in tune with the student population,” he said.

 Marshall noted how far things have come for people with disabilities just in his lifetime. The birth defect that took his sight and caused other problems was commonly fatal when he was born in 1977. Not only has he survived, but he’s pursuing a degree in business and is preparing to join his brother’s web design business.

 This effort to educate the American public about issues related to disability and employment began in 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” The word “physically” was removed in 1962. Congress expanded the week to a month in 1988 and changed the name.

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