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Advisor Profile: Phil Rumrill

A group of eight people, two of whom use wheelchairs.

Center staff met with visiting advisor Phil Rumrill in September.
Front row, from left: Glen White and Dot Nary. Back row: Shelby Akers,
Lucy Cummings, Rumrill, Haley McNally, Hayley Burghart, and Matt Allinder.

Oct. 2, 2017 - Phil Rumrill had a sudden introduction to disability at age 16, when he experienced the onset of Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, which damages the optic nerve, affecting a person’s central vision. Though he retained his peripheral vision, Rumrill continued his schooling as a person who is legally blind.

He benefitted from the state of Vermont’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program, which helped fund his college education, and from the student disability services offered at Keene State College in New Hampshire, where he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and counseling.

The college provided him with academic support in the form of readers – other people who read his textbooks aloud to him. Then he realized he could give back, and started tutoring other students with disabilities in a variety of subjects. “That’s when I discovered I was good at helping others,” he said.

Based on those experiences and the recommendation of his VR counselor, Rumrill left New England for the South, earning a Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Arkansas. His dissertation focused on the experiences of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who seek job accommodations.

“I didn’t even know what rehab counseling was then, but my condition created opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It really made me focus when people came to my dorm room and read statistics to me.”           

Traumatic Brain Injury, Apps and Employment

Today, Rumrill is Professor and Coordinator of the Rehabilitation Counseling Program at Kent State University in Ohio and the Founding Director of its Center for Disability Studies. He has published more than 225 scholarly articles and 15 books. (And, thanks to digital technology, he now uses screen reader software to hear most of what he reads.)

His current work on employment for people with disabilities includes the grant-funded Project Career, which uses cognitive support technology to help students with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) transition from college to employment.

“We’re working with veterans and other students to use apps that provide cognitive support,” Rumrill said. “No two brain injuries are alike, and a TBI can affect a person in all areas of life – emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral and sensory. Each person in the project gets an iPad with customized apps that help them compensate for a wide range of things, from decision making to time management.”

Advising the Research and Training Center

Rumrill is also connected to the University of Kansas as a member of the Scientific and Consumer Advisory Panel for the Research and Training Center on Community Living (RTC/CL). These external advisors make sure the Center’s research is both rigorous and relevant to the lives of people with disabilities. In the feedback he provides, Rumrill represents both the consumer perspective (as a person with a disability) and the scientific (as an accomplished researcher).  

In September 2017, Rumrill visited the Center at KU to meet with the research team and offer his ideas about the interventions they’re conducting.

Some of these projects are in their final stages and ready to be shared with other users. “Dr. Rumrill provided some great ideas for reaching out to others on our Community Capacity Building project,” said Glen White, Center director. “He gave us suggestions for disseminating our new video and Action Planning Guide so that others can follow the process we tested over the past five years.”  

Two other projects are new iterations of RTC/CL studies that are being further developed through the newly funded RTC on Promoting Interventions for Community Living. “Our discussion of the Home Usability Program was helpful in considering some of the limitations to participation that consumers face in their homes in regards to exertion and time taken to complete tasks,” said Hayley Burghart, project coordinator. “Dr. Rumrill’s insight into specialized housing needs and factors that predict this need allowed me to think about our outcomes in a new light.”

Dot Nary, assistant research professor, met with Rumrill to discuss the other intervention, called Out and About. “He used his experience doing research with a variety of populations of people with disabilities to give us helpful feedback on our plans,” said Nary. “For example, based partly on his work with people with multiple sclerosis, he reminded us that people with physical disabilities can experience some cognitive difficulties as well, and that simplifying the language in our study materials would make them more accessible to our participants.”

For his part, Rumrill said, “It has been a tremendous privilege to be part of the Scientific and Consumer Advisory Panel for KU’s RTC on Community Living. I have been an avid follower of the outstanding work that the RTC has done for the past 30-plus years, work that is always imbued with the ideals of consumer empowerment, participatory action, and social justice. It is an honor to call RTC/CL team members my colleagues and friends.”

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