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Panel discusses global disability rights

March 28, 2014

For U.S. citizens familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it may be hard to believe that residents and visitors with disabilities outside of U.S. borders are not always guaranteed protection from discrimination or the right to accessibility accommodations. But the protections afforded by the ADA are not recognized in other countries, and many nations don’t have equivalent laws in place.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a document known as the “Disabilities Treaty” and adopted by the international community, was developed in collaboration with the disability community to address this disparity. The Disabilities Treaty is a call to action for all participating countries to protect the rights of people with disabilities on an equal basis with others. To date, over 140 countries have joined the Disabilities Treaty, and the Obama administration is pursuing congressional ratification of the treaty. Disabilities Treaty panelists Download Full Image

Judith Heumann, U.S. Department of State Special Advisor for International Disability Rights and recognized leader in the disability community, visited Arizona State University last week and spoke about the value of the treaty during a panel discussion on Monday evening. The panel, titled "The Global Landscape of Disability Rights," was held at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and was co-sponsored by the Center for Law and Global Affairs and ASU Global. Charles Herf, faculty associate at the College of Law and lawyer representative to the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, moderated the discussion.

“We are honored to have Judy visit Arizona to talk about the importance of the international Disabilities Treaty, which the U.S. has not ratified, and for her to learn more about ASU’s innovative disability rights initiatives and global programs,” said Daniel Rothberg, Lincoln Fellow in the School of Politics and Global Studies and representative of ASU Global.

Heumann was joined on the panel by Amina Donna Kruck, vice president of advocacy programs, Arizona Bridge to Independent Living; Joanne Philips, owner of Arizona Education Cadre and former deputy associate superintendent at the Arizona Department of Education; and Ed Myers, deputy executive director, Arizona Center for Disability Law. Each panelist emphasized the importance of U.S. ratification of the Disabilities Treaty.

The panel discussed the potential for the treaty to protect citizens and benefit American businesses. For example, it would ensure protection of U.S. veterans with disabilities who work overseas for the government or U.S. companies.

No new legislation or commitments would result from U.S. ratification of the treaty. However, Heumann noted that by not ratifying, the U.S. risks being left out of conversations about global protection of people living with disabilities.

“The Conventions (included in the Disabilities Treaty) are great restatements of American principles,” noted Myers.

In a recent State Department video message, Heumann spoke of the impact of the treaty on university students.

“More students with disabilities are attending universities than in years past, and have the same career aspirations as students without disabilities. You want to study, work, travel and serve your country abroad. But many countries don’t have the same accessibility standards or protections against discrimination as we do in the United States,” she said.

On Monday, Heumann emphasized the significance of bringing the conversation to universities and to ASU in particular. She said that she has learned valuable lessons during her visit to ASU about the ways universities can build successful global partnerships and serve as models of accessibility to the international community. In particular, she noted ASU’s Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program in Vietnam as an avenue for showcasing the disability resources that are part of the university.

“We are excited to be part of this important discussion,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “ASU is an exemplar of inclusivity in higher education, being named one of America’s ‘most disability-friendly colleges.’ In addition, our faculty and students advance research and innovate new technologies that empower people with disabilities.”

Written by Kelsey Wharton, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

Media contact:

Amelia Huggins,
Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

(480) 965-1754

3 outstanding ASU juniors win Goldwater Scholarships

April 1, 2014

Three outstanding Arizona State University juniors who already are doing sophisticated research have won Goldwater Scholarships, the nation’s premier awards for undergraduates studying science, math and engineering.

Working in the laboratories of ASU senior faculty and scientists, the students carry out research ranging from developing biosensors for early detection of infectious diseases to conducting microelectronics research at ASU’s Flexible Display Center. portrait of ASU student Jakob Hansen Download Full Image

Recipients are Ryan Muller of Phoenix, majoring in biochemistry and molecular/cellular biology; Brett Larsen of Chandler, majoring in electrical engineering and physics; and Jakob Hansen of Mesa, a mathematics and economics major. Each of the four will receive $7,500 a year for up to two years.

All are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, while Larsen is also in the Fulton Schools of Engineering. All three are enrolled in Barrett, the Honors College. A fourth student who received honorable mention is Samuel Blitz, a physics major from Scottsdale.

ASU students have won 55 Goldwater Scholarships in the last 21 years, placing ASU among the leading public universities.

Muller is a resourceful and motivated student who began doing research at ASU while still a student at North High School, and again the summer before his freshman year. Xiao Wang, assistant professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, remembers that even though Muller was initially the youngest member of the iGEM synthetic biology research team, others quickly began to rely on him.

“His ideas were fresh, innovative and motivating to the team,” says Wang. “In fact, the first day he volunteered in my lab, without any prior experience, he implemented a strategy to effectively screen for bacterial colonies that contained the correct transformed plasmid. The team began to rely on his resourcefulness.”

In subsequent years, Muller continued working on the team and was a key player in helping them develop a portable, low-cost biosensor system to detect pathogens in water supplies. They won a gold medal and a spot in the international championship event for one of the world’s premiere student engineering and science competitions.

Interested in expanding their work, Muller and others assembled a team of undergraduate researchers to seek additional funding. Last year, they were grand prize winners at the ASU Innovation Challenge and at the ASU Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative. Their fledgling company, Hydrogene Biotechnologies, may help cut down on water-borne diseases that can kill, such as acute childhood diarrhea.

Hansen, a graduate of Red Mountain High School, is a talented mathematician who has been a delight to his professors as someone who enjoys the formal beauty of mathematics, yet is committed to doing research into real problems that affect humans.

“Jakob is exceptionally talented at mathematics, and is one of relatively few undergraduates that I have taught at ASU who was equally enthusiastic about pure and applied mathematics,” says Jay Taylor, assistant professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistical Sciences. “He was always very keen to discuss the theory underpinning the techniques that I presented in class.

“For his project, he wrote a computer program to simulate a malaria outbreak in a small population and used this to investigate the conditions under which malaria will persist in small populations subject to seasonal variation in transmission intensity.”

Hansen participated in ASU’s Computational Science Training for Undergraduates last summer with Rosemary Renaut, professor of mathematics, who praised his mathematical sophistication to the Goldwater committee. He is continuing his research with Renault into more abstract problems.

Larsen, a graduate of Tri-City Christian Academy, received funding early in his career from the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative. Over the past two years, he has conducted research at ASU’s Flexible Display Center, developing ultra low-power circuits and applying advanced signal processing techniques to personnel detection along borders and in hostile territory.

Larsen says his interest in science was sparked by a Boy Scout leader, an electrical engineer who talked to him about subjects that enthralled him: objects traveling at the speed of light, the astonishing power of fusion and fission reactions, and theoretical designs for time machines and light sabers. Larsen was inspired to excel in science so he could push the boundaries of technology.

Called “a brilliant young man” by Antonia Papandreou-Suppappola, professor of electrical engineering, Larsen shares his love of science by mentoring a group of engineering freshmen and leading a science club for young children at the Child Crisis Center. In the future, he hopes to focus his work on developing mathematical models for defense applications.

“ASU’s success in the Goldwater competition is in large part due to the excellent opportunities our students have had to do advanced lab research with talented and committed faculty,” says Janet Burke, associate dean for national scholarship advisement in Barrett, the Honors College.

“It goes without saying that the drive and brilliance of the students themselves are both important. I have a top-notch Goldwater committee who do a superb job of selecting the students whose applications will bubble to the top of the pile.”