UVM Partner Profile: Amber Fulcher, ADA/504 Coordinator
- By Jeanne M Nauheimer
Fulcher works as the University of Vermont's ADA/504 Coordinator and has worked with the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion on accessibility and assitive technology.
Amber has been connected to CDCI for many years through our Assistive Technology Tryout Centers. We were elated to find out last July that she was coming to the University of Vermont as the ADA/504 Coordinator within the university’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity. Amber is the kind of person you always want on your team. She has helped CDCI make changes to our office space to become more inclusive, and she has connected us with people and departments interested in improving accessibility around campus. Amber shared with us a little about her background and how she came to UVM, some of her current challenges, successes, and what she’s looking forward to in the coming year.
How She Got Here
Amber has always had a passion for social justice, especially how it relates to people with disabilities. Accessibility became a big part of that. Her interest in access has roots in her personal and family experiences and was cultivated while in graduate school for psychology and counseling: “I was really fortunate to get a graduate assistantship for three years with student disability services within the university where I went,” Amber explained. After receiving her Master’s degree and working for years as a mental health counselor and clinical case manager with a focus on disability, Amber ran the student accessibility services at Fisher College in Boston which sparked her passion for assistive technology (AT): “I got a lot of opportunities to work with assistive technology and I worked really closely with our AT Act Program that was in Massachusetts, and I became really interested in that whole world—the creative problem solving for practical solutions.” Amber said this collaboration helped her become more engaged with the principles of Universal Design, forming inclusive spaces, and how doing so works in concert with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
After working in Massachusetts, Amber moved to Vermont to be the Director of the Vermont Assistive Technology Program. Just like how every state has a Developmental Disabilities Network under the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act), a piece of legislation known as the Federal AT Act Program requires each state to have its own AT Program. In every state, these AT Programs can be carried out a little differently. The Vermont Assistive Technology Program is housed in the Department of Aging and Independent Living in Vocational Rehab, but it also partners with CDCI to manage three Assistive Technology Tryout Centers throughout the state. After seven years in the role, Amber took her current position here at UVM in July of 2017.
Her Current Work
After working with people of all different ages and backgrounds through assistive technology, Amber was eager to focus her knowledge and skills to creating a more inclusive and accessible space at UVM. “I want to apply all this practical experience here and see how the ADA factors into that,” Amber said. While her position is a relatively new one, it has historically been focused on doing faculty and staff accommodations. This is still Amber’s primary focus, but during her short time here, she has found there has been a need for more consulting on general accessibility around campus, both for our digital and physical footprint. Amber sees this as a great opportunity to make a real difference. She envisions that this good could span beyond our campus: “I also love that we’re an educational institution so if we are making these changes, we’re graduating students that are going to go out and make more changes out in the world.”
After working with Amber through the state and with her work on campus, it is clear that she does this work to make a better future. “There’s a lot of untapped opportunities to build [access] into our culture in a way that can make change,” she shared. While she enjoys the problem-solving work assistive technology offers, she has hopes for a future where it isn’t so fully needed: “The conundrum with Assistive Technology is that is it’s a function of non-inclusive design. How can we do a creative workaround for an environment that’s built for folks with a certain type of ability?” Amber hopes that her position at UVM can help move us from a mindset of finding solutions to problems to stopping them from occurring in the first place. “Let’s try to get those barriers gone without putting band-aids on them.” While she knows this won’t happen tomorrow, she feels motivated by the fact that we do seem to always be getting closer. “We’re constantly so close, just bumping over that line, to make significant changes for the better.” While we continue to work towards this goal, Amber says the accommodation work is really rewarding. “This is one area where small changes have the potential to make an enormous impact—to open up the world for people,” she said. “Problem-solving for someone to have access, to be able to successfully do their job, and to have equal opportunity is really concrete and really wonderful.”
Amber has been excited to see enthusiasm and accomplishments across campus for improving accessibility. Amber’s work has bridged parts of campus that have been isolated around this work, and she can see a need for there to be a central hub around accessibility. “There are a lot of really motivated and committed people on campus, but there hasn’t necessarily been a system to connect the work and energy.” Amber hopes that in the future, this is something that can become more developed.
Amber wants to celebrate that an official ADA standing group was just formed at the University. This committee is the result of the efforts of two president’s short-term appointed committees that looked at our current status regarding facilities and digital accessibility last year. After creating reports for the president, there was a recommendation for a standing group, which had its first meeting in May. Amber sees potential for that group to “systematically approach accessibility at the university and make measurable changes.” Amber is especially pleased that this group will have the ability to touch on all aspects of the university: “I’m working with Colleges, supervisors, employees, and then I’m also working physical plant, parking, IT folks, and Compliance—It’s about our whole infrastructure.”
What She Sees Ahead
Amber is looking forward to supporting the standing committee around ADA and becoming a real “doer” on campus. “I’m hoping to be able to help figure out some of these pieces: How to take advantage of the synergy that’s already happening on campus? How do we put the systems in place so we can do things collectively?” She’s also excited about some more concrete things that are lined up for this upcoming year, like the currently posted short-term position for a Contract Analyst to conduct accessibility and security reviews of contracts to make sure the services and digital products UVM invests in are accessible. “That’s a huge part of making sure we’re doing the right thing going forward, so having the increase in staffing to assist with this, at least for this next year, will be super helpful.”
Amber is also looking forward to working with the ADA standing committee to tackle our digital and physical spaces, facilitate continuous improvement in ourcurrent services for students and staff, and build on UVM’s culture of inclusivity and accessibility. “I’m really hopeful that we’ll have some things that we can say we did going forward. That’s what I’m most excited about. How do we best harness the resources we have now and build out from there?”