Student Works to Level the Playing Field

The following article appeared in the July, 1993 issue of ChemLetter.

Differently-abled, disabled, or challenged. It doesn't matter what word is used to describe students who rely on wheelchairs for mobility, use canes or dogs because of blindness or low vision, employ interpreters because of hearing impairments, or need extra time on examinations because of learning deficits. Obstacles exist regardless of the label and nowhere do some of these barriers loom larger than in science classrooms.

Chemistry graduate student Karl Booksh is actively trying to interest more disabled high school students in science majors and careers through his participation in a National Science Foundation-funded project called DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics). the UW and NorthWestNet are also supporting the program.

This three-year project is designed to introduce high school sophomores to the world of science through frequent electronic communication and personal contact with practicing scientists and engineers. During its first year, approximately 20 students, mostly from Washington State, have been accepted into the program and outfitted with computers, modems, software, Internet network connections, and when necessary, special adaptive technology, such as voice-activated word processors. A two-week summer camp will be held in August and will be expanded in successive years to bring back original project participants in addition to new students.

Booksh is part of DO-IT's governing board and is unofficially serving as a mentor to a Seattle-area young man who has expressed an interest in science and music. The two email regularly and Booksh has shown this student around the University and Department of Chemistry. During the summer camp, Booksh is going to serve as an instructor.

It was because of his work on a UW advisory committee which is concerned with providing and maintaining physical access to campus facilities for disabled students that Booksh came to the attention of Sheryl Burgstahler, DO-IT's director and head of the UW microcomputers program. Establishing entry into all buildings for disabled students is the group's first priority, followed by the recommendation that resources be spent to improve the facilities in these buildings, such as bathrooms and elevators. Booksh's committee has also recommended that curb cuts be conspicuously painted so that delivery vehicles, among others, don't park in front of them. This last idea has so far been overruled by another campus committee which fears that campus aesthetics will be compromised if the curb cuts are somehow illuminated.

Booksh, who is completing his third year of graduated study at the UW, just received a graduate fellowship for the next academic year from the American Chemical Society's Division of Analytical Chemistry. His work in chemometrics is supervised by Bruce Kowalski and after he receives his Ph.D., Booksh would like to teach at a small college.