Allison Solomon always knew she wanted to help those in need. As a high-school junior, she thought the best way to do that would be to pursue a career as a speech pathologist.
She found out four years later she was wrong.
“I was doing my clinicals in my last semester of finishing my undergraduate work at Auburn and I hated it,” Solomon says. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this the rest of my life.’”
So Solomon went to graduate school and got a degree in rehabilitation counseling. While job-shadowing, she made a connection with someone in the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services who told her about a disabilities specialist position open at UAB.
“I never thought about working in higher education,” Solomon says. “When the idea came up of working at UAB, I got so excited. I thought, ‘This is perfect. I can be in college forever.’ I think it keeps you young in a way, working in the college atmosphere and especially working with students with disabilities.”
Now the director of Disability Support Services (DSS), colleagues laud Solomon for her extraordinary dedication to UAB students, faculty and staff. They also point to her desire to educate others about the difficulties faced by students who undertake the challenges of college work while seeking to overcome the disadvantage of having physical or learning disabilities as admirable and essential at UAB. Therefore, Solomon has been selected January’s Employee of the Month.
Edward Kennedy, recently retired attorney in the UAB Office of Counsel, says Solomon’s ability to explain the role of DSS and convince faculty that her office exists to work with faculty to manage accommodation issues almost always wins over the most skeptical in the audience.
“Success in Allison’s job requires her to be an advocate for students who have provided documentation of a disability and balance that role with her role as administrative employee responsible for educating students and parents about what are reasonable and unreasonable expectations,” Kennedy says. “I am convinced that Allison’s energy and genuine enthusiasm for helping students proved to be the single most important trait that enabled her to achieve success in handling difficult personalities and situations where others could easily have given up.”
Solomon and the DSS office are responsible for ensuring UAB complies with federal law established by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Students with disabilities who attend UAB are required to visit the DSS office if they need special accommodations. They must provide detailed documentation to support their disability, and it’s Solomon’s job to make sure the student meets the definition of disability under the law and that UAB is providing the necessary accommodations to those who are eligible.
“Our staff is responsible for making sure that everything UAB offers is available and accessible to students with disabilities,” Solomon says. “That can be in terms of physical access in the classroom, online access, or access to clubs, activities and services that are provided to students.”
Solomon and her staff also work with faculty and staff. Occasionally a student will approach DSS to notify them of difficulty they are having receiving necessary accommodations. But Solomon says faculty will contact her office the majority of the time, seeking solutions for the students who need assistance.
Laura Stansell, instructor of mathematics, says she typically has a number of students who receive DSS services. Stansell has worked with Solomon on many occasions to provide students with the best possible services in order to make each student’s educational experience at UAB positive.
“Each semester, I have at least one DSS student who may need disability-related accommodations that I am unsure how best to meet,” Stansell says. “Allison is always readily available to answer my questions and provide helpful information. I am always confident that Allison knows what federal law requires, and it’s certainly comforting to know that I have her as a resource.”
While many colleagues consider Solomon’s rapport with her students as her greatest strength, they say she also takes her role as a faculty advocate equally as serious. She avails herself to faculty daily through phone calls, emails and in person visits.
“She clarifies, synthesizes and works with individual programs to help each faculty member decide the best educational venue possible for the student,” says Patricia Jennings, Dr.P.H., professor and program director of the Surgical Physician Assistant Program.
Solomon and her dedicated staff also train faculty and staff to ensure UAB is in compliance with federal mandates. This past fall, DSS began training sessions for faculty in every academic department across the university, says Suzanne Austin, vice provost for Student and Faculty Success.
“This is a huge undertaking, but it is being done thoroughly, enthusiastically and professionally,” Austin says. “Allison’s strong commitment to and leadership of efforts to improve the lives of members of the disabilities community at UAB has made a tremendous difference.”
Students like Eric LaFlore echo those sentiments. LaFlore considers Solomon his advocate and friend. He says Solomon is one of the most important people he has encountered in his collegiate life.
“If it wasn’t for her and the help DSS provided me, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve nearly as much as I did,” LeFlore says.
DSS staff members, including Valerie DuBose, assistant director, Wendy Griffin, office services specialist, Melissa Scott, disability counselor and Mallory McKee, graduate assistant, applaud Solomon’s dedication to students and employees. They also value her leadership in their small, but busy, office.
“She is an exemplary leader who values the ideas and opinions of each and every staff member,” DuBose says. “She often asks for feedback, which makes all of her employees feel important and appreciated.”
Solomon says she is thankful to work alongside such a dedicated group. She appreciates their positive attitudes and willingness to help each other and colleagues throughout campus.
“My staff is great, and it’s important we work well together because we see so many different issues,” Solomon says. “One of the reasons I love my job is because it’s never the same thing twice. And the best thing is, we never have to wonder if what we’re doing is having an impact. When you see a student graduate, and you know the struggles they’ve had and trials they’ve overcome to get there, it’s beyond rewarding.”