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Celebrating Disability Employment Awareness Month with Mary-Beth Rose

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Alyssa Hurst

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Alyssa Hurst
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Mary-Beth Rose

The University of Denver is committed to living our values of diversity and inclusion. We recognize that our community and institutional success is dependent on how well we engage and embrace the rich diversity of our faculty, staff, administrators, students and alumni. With that shared value in mind, throughout this academic year, we will be launching a new series in the Bridge to celebrate cultural and ethnic heritage months. In partnership with Human Resources & Inclusive Community and the Staff of Color Association (SOCA), we will feature a staff or faculty member in recognition of each heritage month, along with an event to celebrate one another and learn about our unique differences.

Mary-Beth Rose is a testing coordinator for DU’s Disability Services Program. When she was nine months old, she lost her hearing due to meningitis, and her family started using Cued Speech, a visual mode of communication based on the consonants and vowels of spoken language. In the late 1980s, Rose became the first child in Vermont to receive the cochlear implant. Over the years, she has supported the Cued Speech community in a variety of roles, most recently as secretary of the Rocky Mountain Cued Speech Association. In her free time, Rose enjoys turning reclaimed wood into craftwork and exploring Colorado with her family. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Tell us about your role in the Disability Services Program (DSP).

My role in the Disability Services Program is to coordinate all the academic exams for students who have approved testing accommodations (e.g., extended time, exams on computers, private room, etc.) and take them in our testing center, which serves as a reduced-distraction environment. The average number of students who take quizzes, midterms and final exams in our testing center per quarter hovers around 1,200. The last half of each quarter is spent planning and preparing to administer approximately 500 final exams during the University final examination period, when, on a heavy testing day, DSP will administer more than 200 final exams. My role requires a lot of communication with students regarding scheduling exams and requesting alternate test times due to time conflicts with another class.  I also communicate with faculty to ensure students taking exams in the testing center are receiving the same exam and test instructions as the students in the classroom. Additionally, I interview, hire and supervise approximately 20 testing-center staff, [including] test proctors, testing center assistants and scribes.

What book, movie, podcast, etc. would you recommend to anyone looking to learn more about the experiences of people with disabilities?

There are lots of great books and movies out there. However, I believe human interaction is the best way to learn more about and connect with others. Everyone has a story — including those who aren’t diagnosed with a disability — and the more we learn from each other, the more we will understand that although some people have the same disability, their stories are very different. Everyone has to overcome barriers and challenges, some more than others. We all have different ways of addressing those, because we each have our own strengths and weaknesses. … I look forward to the day more people focus on abilities and access rather than the stigma on disability. We also can’t make assumptions that all people with the same label, such as ADHD, have the same experiences.

My husband and myself are a great example. We both have hearing loss and grew up using Cued Speech. While we both have the same “label” of being deaf, our personalities and life experiences from birth to now are unique in that we have had different barriers or obstacles to overcome.  I learn a lot from his experiences because often times, I tell myself “that’s something I could try.”

Why did you choose a role in disability services? Why are you passionate about your work?

I started out working for the Disability Services Program five years ago as the part-time administrative assistant. At that time, I was taking a break from attending University of Northern Colorado [where I was] working toward becoming a special education teacher. However, after an unfortunate situation that took place when a special education instructor believed my deafness wouldn’t allow me to participate in an in-class activity, I decided it was time for me to take a break, navigate other options and see where life would take me.

About nine months after I started working as the administrative assistant, the academic testing coordinator job opened up. Through this journey, I have realized I am very passionate about working in higher education and helping students learn that self-advocating is very important, as that skill is something they can carry over into the real world as professionals in their field. I am also motivated to help instructors understand that because a student has an approved testing accommodation, it is a matter of ensuring the student has equitable access.

What advice do you have for students with disabilities who are entering the workforce?

As you transition from DU to the workforce, be ready to self-advocate. Be familiar with what your rights are through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  There is still a lot of work to do regarding educating and creating awareness about what the rights are for people with disabilities, so we need to keep our lines of communication open. Ask questions as needed, and be willing to answer questions. Provide resources for your company, if you can.

Who in your life has inspired you?

I don’t really have a specific person who has inspired me, because I grew up with people telling me I was an inspiration just because I was deaf, so the word “inspire” carries a different meaning for me than most. The people I look up to the most are my 5-year-old daughter, Arabella, and my husband, Aaron. Through them, I’ve learned to follow what I’m most passionate about in life.