Students in the News

May 2, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Undergrad Helps Shed a ‘Bright Light’ on Accessibility

Accessible Ohio graphic: inspiring inclusion at Ohio University

Kim Dominguez, a third-year student at Ohio University studying Forensic Chemistry, Biological Sciences and Spanish, is anything but an ordinary college student.

Dominguez, an Accessibility Liaison from Elgin, Ill., seeks to make the Ohio University and Athens communities a better place through involvement in and out of the classroom.

Her love for forensics and science, she says, started at an early age through participation in extracurricular activities and an internship at her local police department, which allowed her to job shadow many law enforcement careers.

“I was in STEM academy in high school and our first year-long project as a freshman was a Gel Electrophoresis project,” Dominguez recalled. “It involved a combination of biology, chemistry, and engineering…. Before this I still thoroughly enjoyed what forensics entailed, it was my high-school academic experiences that nudged me a little further, but the opportunities I had to witness real-life applications really finalized my career choice. Beyond how amazing it was to have had my first job in the police department, I was able to tour other divisions of the department, like the detective’s side, so it was an added bonus of exploring other careers and learning more about the inside scoop.”

Dominguez was a resident assistant at Read-Johnson Scholar’s Complex and is an active member of Alpha Chi Sigma chemistry fraternity at OHIO. But, what many people may not know about her is that she has struggled with hearing deficiencies for the last 11 years of her life. At the age of 9, she and her family found out that she had bilateral hearing loss, meaning she must now wear hearing aids in both of her ears.

Working to Improve Accessibility

“I didn’t really notice it growing up because being a part of the gifted program meant my school district always had me in small classrooms with an equally small teacher to student ratio, so I never felt that I was hearing-impaired,” she shared. “The school had mandated hearing screens and I would consistently fail them, but I thought nothing of it since I didn’t feel like my hearing was really affected. It wasn’t until I actually saw an audiologist, and through their much deeper routine testing that I had a formal diagnosis confirming I was hearing impaired.”

Upon coming to Ohio University in 2014, Dominguez experienced culture shock in various ways including going from a larger area with various resources to a place where there were fewer accessible options for her in the classroom. Dominguez chose to be proactive and immediately sought ways to get involved in the decision making regarding accessibility at OHIO. Her involvement has led her to become a part of the Accessibility Liaison program.

“We are internal liaisons for Ohio University and its students and staff,” Dominguez explained. “Every meeting has a designated topic to address. It is also a time to express our concerns and suggestions on how to improve. Sometimes our meetings have guest speakers, these are people directly tied to these topics, people who can make a change, so it’s not like our concerns fall on deaf ears…Accessibility is all about catering to the accommodations needed for a wide range of disabilities. Just because it won’t help you personally doesn’t mean that it’s not a change that others can benefit from. We are also external liaisons between the city of Athens and Ohio University in terms of accessibility for all of us as residents of the city.”

One of the Accessibility Liaisons’ main goals is to change the way that accessibility is thought about and discussed at OHIO. Through meetings, presentations and conversations that are not always easy to have, Dominguez and the Accessibility Liaisons are making progress in this effort.

Shedding a ‘Bright Light’ on Invisible Needs

“I think that many people still have an outdated idea of what accessibility means. It’s not just people with apparent mobility challenges; it also includes those with health conditions or other impairments that are invisible to the naked eye such as visual and hearing impairments. With that comes the importance of recognizing the power words can hold. Disclosure of a disability is a confidential matter and very much a personal decision. For that reason, it’s best to be aware of your vocabulary usage, aiming to be respectful when talking to everyone and about anything not just those with a disability or on the topic of it,” she said.

Through meetings with students, department members, the OHIO Board of Trustees and guest speakers, the Accessibility Liaisons have been able to share their concerns, suggestions and overall experience with issues regarding accessibility from a firsthand perspective. Although, it seems as if there is always more to discuss after the meeting time has run out, Dominguez believes their efforts are effective.

Regarding her overall experience, Dominguez says, “It’s been positive. I really like how our guest speakers provide other means to contact them with supplemental input just because we are time limited in our meetings.”

For Dominguez, the Accessibility Liaison program is just the beginning of what she would like to give back to the OHIO student body. She seeks to be an advocate for those who struggle with disabilities, acknowledging that a disability may not always be visible. She believes that the program’s work has helped to point the University in a positive direction, especially when recruiting new students.

“It sheds a brighter light on the University knowing they are actually paying attention to the needs of the community as well as the students,” Dominguez said. “They’re the ones who need to make sure that these issues are being addressed and explored. Everyone will benefit from these efforts, especially incoming students and students who are considering attending Ohio University.”

Dominguez is currently a lab assistant for the criminalistics and criminal investigation course for forensic chemists and is a research assistant in the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department. She plans to pursue a graduate program in analytical chemistry or forensic chemistry upon completing her undergraduate course work, with the goal of working in a crime laboratory.

To learn more information about this program and other disability strategic plan implementation efforts, visit https://www.ohio.edu/equity-civil-rights/pacdap/index.cfm.

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