July 26, 2017

How a Wheelchair is Making the Difference

Filed under: College — Giorgio Varlaro @ 8:03 pm

Tufano exchanges mobility for a new set of wheels

Tony TufanoAt Keuka College we acknowledge, respect, and celebrate our differences—valuing many identities with the intension of creating an understanding environment. Our students, faculty, and staff know each other by name—and because of this—it allows for better understanding and mutual respect.

The caring environment provided helps students reach out and make a difference face-to-face, and this couldn’t be more apparent with the Occupational Therapy (OT) program who for the past decade have asked students to participate in an assumed disability project.

“The faculty who teach advanced clinical skill courses at Keuka College ask junior and senior students to take on a disability they have learned about such as a stroke or spinal cord injury—something that is severe enough where some form of assistive mobility device such as a walker or wheelchair is needed,” said Division Chair of Occupational Therapy Dr. Dianne M. Trickey-Rokenbrod. “We realize this is only a small taste of the actual experience, but we believe it does provide some insight into mobility challenges.”

Students typically are asked to last 48 hours in their disabled state, and in that time, must get groceries in town and cook a meal with adaptive equipment in the OT lab.

One staff member who learned of this project within the first couple weeks of his hiring was Director of Facilities Tony Tufano. Tufano—who joined our institution in April 2015—went to a student senate meeting where he was introduced to the assumed disability project. The memorable meeting for Tony took a small hiatus during the summer until he met Oliesha Jackson, a sociology major at Keuka. It was then during the fall 2015 semester when the sophomore from Syracuse, NY told the individual in charge of campus grounds the issues she deals with as a person who has to use a wheelchair daily.

“OT students originally asked me within my first couple weeks on campus what I was going to do about ADA (Americans with Disabilities) compliance,” said Tufano. “They had offered some perceived risks which I had no answers for, so nothing really came of it. Not until after I met Oliesha in the fall did real questions come forth. Jackson and Laura Sprague got together and asked to have a meeting with me in the spring (2016) where they gave me a list of items that challenge accessibility around Keuka.”

Jackson and Sprague included 18 separate items in alphabetical order for Tony to look at, following up with him as to how the list was coming from time-to-time via email, meeting occasionally for lunch.

“Through the summer I progressed on the list to the delight of both Oliesha and Laura which then evolved to me possibly getting in a wheelchair during one of our meetings,” added Tufano. “I had offered in the past to using a wheelchair, and I guess this was the first time someone took me serious!”

From there, Lauren, an occupational science major got in contact with Dr. Trickey-Rokenbrod to see if Tony could get fitted. In an interesting swing of events, Tufano was being fitted for an assistive mobility device to use around campus. The director of facilities was going to do his job, one which includes ample walking around the entire campus daily, in a wheelchair for one work week—three more days than students are expected to complete.

“I learned quickly the first day that it was going to be an interesting week after I tried to go to the bathroom in our office,” said Tufano chuckling. “I wasn’t able to do it!”

The new situation didn’t faze Tony however, as he remained in the wheelchair as much as possible to get the most of the experience. The avid skier, rock climber, and mountain biker took this new challenge in stride with the intension of making progress.

“I like pushing limits,” said Tufano. “I figured if the OT students were doing this, I should do it as well due to the role I have on campus. Additionally, I like making improvements in everything that I do. That’s where I find satisfaction!”

In his new predicament, Tufano was able to do many of his daily activities like ground, custodial, and maintenance inspections on Monday, Wednesday and Friday—but for the first time he was able to do it with a different perspective.

“The majority of our buildings are accessible,” said Tufano. “What I looked at before was if there was any way to get in a building. Now I look to make ADA convenient decisions, not compliant, since being compliant doesn’t necessarily offer convenience.”

Many Keuka students, faculty, and staff quickly learned of what Tony was doing and supported him in this endeavor. Tufano remitted that he didn’t think getting in wheelchair was going to garner as much attention as it did, but welcomed it as he looked to make the campus better.

“It was clear from the beginning that people were interested in making changes,” said Tufano. “Their passion impressed me. I saw it in each OT student during the student senate meeting. They didn’t want acknowledgement, they wanted awareness.”

Tufano continues to work on the list that Oliesha and Laura gave him, now a few days removed from his wheelchair. And maybe he’s getting more done with the blisters on his hands finally getting some rest. Despite that, Tony continues to create solutions amid other conflicts a director encompasses daily at any institution.

“There are some things on the list we can do, while others might not be an option,” said Tufano. “The challenge is real!”


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