IDEAL Group President, Steve Jacobs, Named “Champion of Change” by Obama Administration

WASHINGTON, DC – Monday, May 7th, the White House will, today, honor 14 individuals as Champions of Change for leading the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math for people with disabilities in education and employment.

“STEM is vital to America’s future in education and employment, so equal access for people with disabilities is imperative, as they can contribute to and benefit from STEM,” said Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. “The leaders we’ve selected as Champions of Change are proving that when the playing field is level, people with disabilities can excel in STEM, develop new products, create scientific inventions, open successful businesses, and contribute equally to the economic and educational future of our country.”

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s “Winning the Future” initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

To watch this event live, visit www.whitehouse.gov/live at 1:30 pm ET on May 7th.

The White House “Champions of Change” are:

Steve Jacobs, President of IDEAL Group, Inc. He is dedicated to enhancing the accessibility of STEM curriculum for students with disabilities. His company offers software that translates printed STEM materials into digital formats for conversion into speech and Braille.  It also developed fully-accessible STEM-enabled eBook reading software. Over the past 3-1/2 years, Apps4Android, a subsidiary of IDEAL, has become the world’s largest developers of mobile accessibility applications with five million installations in 136 countries. Jacobs is also working with many institutions to tech-transfer their STEM-related work to mobile platforms. These institutions include Smith-Kettlewell’s Video Description R&D Center, University of Oregon’s Mathematics eText Research Center, and Georgia Tech Wireless Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center, and Sonification Lab. Jacobs is a 1973 graduate of Ohio State University. Steve and wife Pauline have been married for 37 years. Pauline and Steve have two daughters, Shana and Jessica, and a granddaughter Brooke Christine… who is Steve’s boss.

Ralph Braun is the founder and CEO of The Braun Corporation. Diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy in 1947, he began using a wheelchair for mobility. Determined to maintain his independence, he engineered the world’s first motorized scooter and followed with the first accessible vehicle a few years later. The company grew substantially over the next decades, and today, The Braun Corporation is the worldwide leader of wheelchair accessible vehicles and wheelchair lifts in the mobility industry. What started as a part-time business operated from his parents’ garage has grown into an international corporation with over 800 employees. Ralph is now 71 years old and is the father of five adult children. He still lives and runs The Braun Corporation from his hometown of Winamac, Indiana with his wife, Melody.

Joseph Sullivan is president of Duxbury Systems, Inc., a small company that has specialized in software for braille since its founding in 1975, and which now employs two blind people and which provides braille translation software for more than 130 languages worldwide.  He has also served on many braille-related committees, including the Literary Braille and Computer Braille Committees of the Braille Authority of North America, was chair of the technical design subcommittee of the Unified English Braille (UEB) project of the International Council on English Braille (ICEB), and currently serves on the UEB Maintenance Committee of ICEB.  Joe believes that braille is the key to literacy for blind persons, that literacy is the key to an informed citizenry, and that an informed citizenry is essential to civilization.

University of North Texas (UNT) Biochemistry graduate student Nasrin Taei is developing a model peptide system to investigate the effects of mutations that cause sudden cardiac arrest in young adults. Her model system will be used for testing potential candidate drugs that ameliorate the structural effects of heart disease causing mutations. Nasrin is a member of Phi Theta Kappa an international honor society. As a STEM model, she tutored at the community college and mentored high school students, which led to her recognition at UNT as a Soaring Eagle. Nasrin is being honored as a Champion of Change for her humanitarianism and contributions toward discovering a treatment for heart disease and making a better future for people around the globe.

Maria Dolores Cimini, Ph.D. is the Assistant Director for Prevention and Program Evaluation at the University at Albany Counseling Center and has served as the Principal Investigator for over six million dollars in behavioral health projects funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the U.S. Department of Education during the past decade. As a scientist-practitioner, Dr. Cimini has been active in promoting access to STEM for students with disabilities, particularly young women with disabilities, through her work with the American Psychological Association’s Women with Disabilities in STEM Education Project for which she serves as Co-Chair and her mentoring of students and early career scientists on a national scale. Through her own experience as a scientist with a disability, she is helping our nation identify and enhance facilitators and address barriers to STEM education and career success for people with disabilities. Dr. Cimini is being honored as a Champion of Change for her work in enhancing access to the STEM disciplines by students with disabilities through her research, leadership, and mentoring efforts.

As a professional and a parent, Virginia Stern has been working for more than four decades to raise expectations of persons with disabilities, their families, educators, and employers, especially employers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Since 1977 she was a guiding force of the Project on Science, Technology and Disability of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She recognized that talented students with disabilities needed more than legislation and STEM degrees to gain employment in their chosen fields. In 1996 Mrs. Stern and her colleagues developed the flagship program, Entry Point!, to provide paid internships and develop career skills in the private and public sectors for students with disabilities in STEM. Hundreds of Entry Point! alumni have joined and continue to advance in the STEM workforce of the nation.

Rafael San Miguel began his career at NASA working on the Space Shuttle program, and has spent the past 23 years as a scientist for The Coca-Cola Company.  He also serves as a board member of the Atlanta Speech School, an 80-year old private institution focused on meeting the needs of those with speech and language based disabilities.  Rafael, who has been profoundly deaf since infancy, creates awareness about disability by focusing on ability as he inspires young people to pursue education in science and math. Using his unique format that presents science in an exciting way, he has volunteered at schools both locally and in communities where he travels by connecting with underserved schools through the volunteer network of Points of Light. Rafael is now turning his energies toward a call to action and creating an initiative called the U.S. Science Project focused on inspiring individual scientists, businesses, legislators and community leaders to scale efforts for engaging in impact-driven volunteerism to begin to fill the science deficit in our nation through a volunteer Science Corps.

David H. Rose, EdD, is a developmental neuropsychologist and educator whose primary focus is on the development of new technologies for learning. In 1984, Dr. Rose co-founded CAST, a not-for-profit research and development organization whose mission is to improve education, for all learners, through universal design for learning (UDL). Dr. Rose also teaches at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education where he has been on the faculty for more than 25 years. He is the author or editor of numerous books and articles on UDL, and the winner of awards from the Smithsonian Museum, the Tech Museum, and others.

Christine Reich is Director of Research and Evaluation at the Museum of Science, Boston, one of the world’s largest science centers. The Museum of Science brings science, technology, engineering, and math to about 1.5 million visitors a year through its dynamic programs and interactive exhibits. As Director of Research and Evaluation, Christine oversees a department that conducts research and evaluation studies related to various aspects of the Museum experience, but her passion and expertise focus on researching ways to advance the inclusion of people with disabilities in museum learning. Prior to her current position, Christine worked as a museum educator and an exhibit planner, specializing in the development of museums exhibitions and programs that are inclusive of people with disabilities.

George Kerscher began his IT innovations in 1987 and coined the term “print disabled.”  George is dedicated to developing technologies that make information not only accessible, but also fully functional in the hands of persons who are blind or who have a print disability. He believes properly designed information systems can make all information accessible to all people and is working to push evolving technologies in this direction. As Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium and President of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), Kerscher is a recognized international leader in document access.  In addition, Kerscher is the Senior Officer of Accessible Technology at Learning Ally in the USA.  He chairs the DAISY/NISO Standards committee, and serves on the USA National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) Board.

As a child in the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in 1949, John Boyer found that contemporary scientific material in braille was almost non-existent. John has never lost the sense of frustration he felt when the braille resources available to him were insufficient to satisfy his hunger for more science education. John believes that is the motive for his life’s work. He obtained a master’s degree in Computer science, with a minor in electronics engineering at the University of Wisconsin in 1980. His first company was a Braille publishing enterprise which served an international client base. Abilitiessoft, Inc., his current company, creates open source adaptive software which makes Web pages available to blind persons through a Braille display. The current project, BrailleBlaster, will allow the integration of text with Braille graphics such as maps and graphs into a format accessible to blind people.

Dr. Dimitri Kanevsky is a Research staff member in the Speech and Language Algorithms Department at the IBM T.J.Watson Research Center. Prior to joining IBM, he worked at a number of prestigious centers for higher mathematics, including the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1979, he invented a multi-channel vibration based hearing aid, and founded a company to produce and market this device. He also developed the first uses for speech recognition as a communication aid for deaf users over the telephone, for which he received an award from the National Search for Computing Applications from John Hopkins to Assist Persons with Disabilities. In 1998 Dr. Kanevsky introduced the first remote transcription stenographic services over the Internet, and created the ViaScribe product speech recognition concept and system that allows automatic transcription of lectures in real-time and the creation of multimedia notes. At IBM he has been responsible for developing the first Russian automatic speech recognition system, as well as key projects for embedding speech recognition in automobiles and broadcast transcription systems. He currently holds 152 US patents and was granted the title of Master Inventor IBM in 2002 , 2005 and 2010. His conversational biometrics based security patent was recognized by MIT, Technology Review Magazine, as one of five most influential patents for 2003. His work on Extended Baum-Welch algorithm in speech, another initiative for embedding speech recognition in automobiles and his work on conversational biometrics was recognized as science accomplishment  in 2002 , 2004 and 2008 by the Director of Research at IBM . In 2005 Dimitri Kanevsky received an Honorary degree (Doctor of Laws, honoris causa) from the University College of Cape Breton.  He was elected a member  of  the Word Technology Network in 2004 and was a Chairperson of IT Software Technology session at Word Technology Network Summit 2005 in San-Francisco, Calif. He also organized a special session on Large Scale Optimization at ICASSP 2012 in Japan.

Henry Wedler is a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, working towards his Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Inspired by programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in high school and with encouragement from professors, colleagues and others, Henry gained the confidence to challenge and refute the mistaken belief that STEM fields are too visual and, therefore, impractical for blind people.  Henry is not only following his own passion; he is working hard to develop the next generation of scientists by founding and teaching at an annual chemistry camp for blind and low-vision high school students. Chemistry Camp demonstrates to these students, by example and through practice, that their lack of eyesight should not hold them back from pursuing their dreams. Henry was nominated by Douglas Sprei of Learning Ally, a nonprofit that produces accessible audio textbooks for blind and learning disabled students, which is an indispensable resource that allowed him to excel in school.

Sina Bahram is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at North Carolina State University.  His field of research is Human Computer Interaction (HCI).  Sina’s primary interest is the dynamic translation of interfaces, with an emphasis on innovative environments being used by persons with visual impairment (PWVI) to facilitate learning, independence, and exploration.  His other research interests focus on using AI inspired techniques to solve real-world user-centric problems.  When he is not busy with his academic pursuits, Sina enjoys staying on the bleeding edge of technology and working with small, high-tech startup companies.  Sina’s passion for his field originally stems from the fact that he is mostly blind and uses assistive technologies such as a screen reader to navigate computer systems and technological devices.  After experimenting in the fields of bioinformatics, privacy policy/law, and systems security, Sina discovered that his heart lies in helping users of all capabilities use computer systems more effectively and efficiently.  He has worked in HCI full-time ever since.

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