Lynn Niemi, UW-Green Bay coordinator for disability services, will lead a panel discussion from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 20) in the Union’s Christie Theatre for the next installment in the Inclusive Excellence and Equity Certificate Series of programs. The topic is “Disabilities.” Niemi says that approximately 20 percent of U.S adults can be classified as having a disability. A guest panel of students, employees and experts in disability issues will answer questions regarding their experiences and how to request disability-related accommodations. There will also be a brief overview of disability law as it relates to the University.
As the result of federal requirements related to certain funding received by the University, Greg Smith of the Counseling and Health Center is heading up a review of policies and procedures related to people who have disabilities. Does your department or unit have any policies or procedures that specifically refer to employees, students or other people who have disabilities? If so please send a copy of those policies or procedures or a web link to Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Not every department will have or need such policies and procedures, so if you do not have any there is no need to take any action. Thanks to those who have already responded to this request. Any questions? Contact Greg at 465-2380 or Lynn Niemi at 465-2841.
“A Clear Standard for Access to Instruction” is the topic for a national audioconference that will have a local link-up courtesy of UW-Green Bay’s Disability Services Office. The program runs from 2 to 3:30 p.m. CDT Thursday, Aug. 29. RSVPs may be sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Offered by AHEAD (the Association on Higher Education and Disability), the audioconference will assess the impact of a July settlement announced by the U.S. Justice Department involving Louisiana Tech University and a complaint about inaccessible course materials. An experts panel will review highlights of recent cases, discuss campus obligations for accessibility in online environments and outline concrete steps for the future.
Earlier this week, we brought you the inspiring story of UW-Green Bay senior Jennifer Ulrich, who plans to walk across the Kress Events Center stage to receive her diploma Saturday — despite the fact that she’s been in a wheelchair since childhood. More than a year ago, Ulrich set a goal to learn to walk, and decided graduation day would be the perfect time to achieve that dream. WBAY, Channel 2’s Kristyn Allen came to campus Friday (May 17) to talk with Ulrich about her journey. Their story is set to air during the 6 p.m. newscast tonight (Friday, May 17); a text preview is provided. We’ve also got our original UW-Green Bay News story on Ulrich and her impressive dual accomplishment.
Jennifer Ulrich has long been known, as she puts it, as “the girl in the wheelchair with the black dog.”
The UW-Green Bay senior and her assistance dog, Wilson, have become a familiar presence on campus during the past several years, as Ulrich has pursued her degree in Psychology. But come Saturday, Ulrich will be known according to a different designation.
The girl who walked across the stage.
She’ll make the trek despite spina bifida and cerebral palsy, which have kept her in a wheelchair since childhood. She’ll make it because of an unflinching personal determination, a special mentor — and some seriously goal-oriented roommates.
“The first thing we did was talk about what our dreams and goals are,” Ulrich said, recalling an initial conversation with new roomies a year ago. “I just plain old wanted to learn how to walk.”
Ulrich says a UW-Green Bay personal conditioning class was a key turning point in her physical and mental journey toward walking. She took the course with UW-Green Bay Associate Lecturer Jane Birr, a life coach and author with a passion for fitness and helping and motivating others. Birr, a 1985 UW-Green Bay alumna, helped Ulrich “stay on my goals and kick me in the butt,” Ulrich recalls with a laugh. Birr also told her to set a date for when she wanted to walk. For Ulrich, that part was easy.
“I thought graduation would be a perfect time.”
Of course, getting there wouldn’t be so easy. Stretching and strengthening often were painful, and there were times Ulrich wanted to quit, she said. And although she credits Birr for keeping her going, Birr is quick to deflect that credit back to Ulrich.
“Jenni does not quit,” Birr said. “I think she deleted that button in her head! She finds a way. Jenni charted out a big vision; now people are rallying behind her to help. But in the end, it is the daily hard work that Jenni puts in when no one is watching that sets her apart.
“Many people say that (they) want to reach a goal, and then (they) quit. Jenni persists.”
Standing — and swimming, and climbing — before she could walk
Birr first noticed that persistence three years ago, when Ulrich made it her goal to obtain a new wheelchair that would allow her to stand. Her insurance company balked at the chair’s $40,000 price tag, but Ulrich was undeterred. She kept at it, and was able to obtain the device through the Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. It was another turning point, Birr said, in terms of both physical goals and attitude.
“She has since started her journey to become a black belt and has won numerous very large trophies,” Birr said. “She has swam with dolphins, climbed the wall at the Kress (Events Center) twice, took up skiing … the list goes on and on. She is jumping in, having fun and working hard, so if she says she is going to walk, I sure am not going to bet against her.”
Ulrich and Birr worked hard together, but Ulrich realized she’d need more help to achieve her goal. It took some convincing to get her doctors to send her to physical therapy — but again, persistence paid off. Now Ulrich attends physical therapy twice a week, preparing for her big moment.
“I have what I call an old granny walker,” she said with a laugh. “I’m 24 years old and I’ve never walked (in my adult life).”
As excited as she is to finally achieve her goal, Ulrich admits she’s very nervous about Saturday. She’ll walk with Wilson beside her, and UW-Green Bay Disability Services Coordinator Lynn Niemi behind her, wheeling her wheelchair (if she falls, Ulrich explains, she tends to fall backward).
Ulrich can walk about 38 feet at a time, she said — “but it’ll feel like a mile to me.”
A mile may be defined in the legs of the walker, but a milestone doubtlessly will be apparent to all present Saturday. For those watching — and for anyone pursuing a goal — Ulrich has some sage advice.
“Keep a positive attitude. If you’re positive and happy, it’s like a magnet,” she said. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If you can see yourself doing it, then it’s possible.”
Update: Ulrich achieved her goal of walking across the commencement stage May 18. For more on her achievement, including a video of the big moment, click here.
Beginning karate may not be the class you’d expect to find UW-Green Bay senior Jennifer Ulrich in. Spina bifida and cerebral palsy have confined her to a wheelchair.
“I can kick and use my legs but I can’t stand or walk unaided,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich is used to doing the unexpected. Last year, the Human Development and psychology major set her sights on a new $40,000 wheelchair that would allow her to stand.
“Standing was very important because I could see people face to face, self-esteem, I could reach cabinets and do chores that were once very difficult for me. And I could participate in a lot more things at a quote-unquote normal level than I would if I were sitting lower than everybody else,” Ulrich said.
Ulrich set her goal as part of a personal conditioning class.
“I followed it in a journal, three times a week, and just worked at my goal and my goal was to get my standing wheelchair,” Ulrich said.
The first place she went was her insurance company.
“Insurance actually told me standing is a luxury not a necessity,” Ulrich said.
But she would not take no for an answer. She continued searching for a solution to her $40,000 problem. She found it at the Wisconsin Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
“They decided that a standing wheelchair would help me most in school and when getting a job and interviews so that an employer does not have to accommodate me. I can do the job myself,” Ulrich said.
So about one month ago, Ulrich got her new wheels:
“This chair is the C500 VS Permobil,” Ulrich said.
Now at the push of a button, Ulrich can stand. She hopes her experience sends a message to others about perseverance. In fact, she has been invited back to the class, this time as a motivational speaker.
“No matter what challenges you may face, if you keep an open mind anything is possible,” Ulrich said.
UW-Green Bay’s coordinator of disability services has been invited to serve on UW System President Kevin Reilly’s Advisory Committee on Disability Issues. Lynn Niemi was one of three new appointees selected for the 10-person committee, which includes representatives of students, System administration and campus professionals. She will attend her first meeting in fall.
UW-Green Bay Disabilities Services Coordinator Lynn Niemi, a leading figure in local youth hockey and the mother of 13-year-old twin girls who excel at the sport, has a very busy week ahead. Niemi is co-director of a national tournament that is expected to bring 48 teams to town and $1.5 million to the area’s economy. The USA Hockey Nationals will be played Wednesday through Sunday (April 7-11) at the Cornerstone Community Ice Center in De Pere. For a very interesting feature on Niemi’s passion for volunteering in her community and helping grow girls’ hockey, check out the story and photos by Marketing and University Communication students P.J. Mee and Adam Koenig; click here.
When University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Disabilities Services Coordinator Lynn Niemi (second from left in the top row) first started volunteering for the Green Bay Area Youth Hockey Association (GBAYHA) in 2007, she was simply trying to be more involved in the community, following in the footsteps of her parents. Continue reading
The Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) will host an audio-conference on new laws and emerging regulations with an impact on disability in higher education, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Thursday, March 4, in MAC Hall 301. For more detailed information contact Lynn Niemi at email@example.com, or (920) 465-2849.