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James Madison University

Finding Ability in Disabilities

By: Brett Seekford
Posted: January 7, 2015

Chelsea Lambright, an occupational therapy graduate student, was on her way home to Virginia Beach when she received a call from JMU Kinesiology professor, Dr. Thomas Moran. Moran informed Lambright that she had been chosen to accompany him to the White House Summit and Research Forum on Improved Health and Fitness for Americans with Disabilities in Washington, D.C.

PHOTO: Tom Moran and Chelsea Lambright

Lambright has long felt a calling to work with people with disabilities. “As an undergraduate at JMU, I was a Health Sciences major and an Exceptional Education Non-teaching minor. I found out about occupational therapy from my mother, a special education teacher. She thought the profession was perfect for me,” Lambright explained. “I began researching [the field] and realized she was right.”

After deciding her desired career path, Lambright looked for ways to channel her newfound passion. As a senior undergraduate student, she worked alongside Moran on the “I Can Do It, You Can Do It!” (ICDI) initiative. This program’s purpose was to raise awareness about people with disabilities and improve their health and well-being. After the success of IDCI, a grant was given to JMU and Moran to establish Overcoming Barriers, where Lambright is now Director of Programming. Modeled on ICDI, Overcoming Barriers is a mentor-based program that matches college students with local children with disabilities.
Since its inception in 2010, Overcoming Barriers has seen great success. It has attracted over 300 JMU student volunteers and works with over 100 community members from Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Due to the organization’s strong implementation, Moran and one of his students were invited to the White House summit to speak about establishing a college-based fitness initiative. He chose Lambright because of her experience as Director of Programming in Overcoming Barriers.

Moran and Lambright’s time in the capitol was enlightening. The White House summit’s mission was to draw attention to the health and activity needs of children with disabilities. Lambright served on a panel with Moran and others, where they spoke about their experience setting up Overcoming Barriers. They also fielded questions from the audience.

“The whole experience was surreal. Public speaking is one of my greatest fears. Since I was asked questions and not allowed a PowerPoint or visual, it was difficult to prepare a script. This meant I had to speak from the heart and experience,” Lambright said. “With Dr. Moran’s support, we collaboratively described the structure, impact, and foundation of our program. I took the audience through my journey, my current roles within the program, and the impact it has had on my education, life and preparation for my future.”

Lambright also had the opportunity to hear speeches from several inspiring people. For example, Damani Tichawonna, a child with Down syndrome, spoke at the summit, as did retired professional baseball player Curtis Pride, and ESPN analyst Anthony Robles. “While sitting in the audience, it was enthralling to hear the different physical activity and nutrition programs for individuals with disabilities around the country,” Lambright remarked of their addresses. “I plan to implement some of the ideas and strategies that I learned.”

“I have always had a passion for helping and making meaningful connections with others and occupational therapy fulfilled these characteristics,” she stated.

“This trip definitely reaffirmed my plans to continue on the path that I am taking,” she added, “They say, ‘If you do something you love, you will never have to work a day in your life.’ This is the epitome of my experience with Overcoming Barriers and how I feel about occupational therapy. I am so excited to see what the future holds!”




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