Hotspot: Rebecca Cagle in the Zone

Rebecca CagleMay 15, 2018 — One thing you may notice about Rebecca Cagle is that she likes to talk about other people—in the best way. She is so proud of the community she serves that she often shares stories about people who have overcome disabilities and turned "no, you can't" into "yes, I can."

As a senior program project coordinator in the UNT office for Workplace Inclusion and Sustainable Employment, WISE, Rebecca develops and markets employment and pre-employment training for people who work in the rehabilitation field.

Born in Huntsville, Ala., she and her family moved to Dallas when she was three years old, where her can-do attitude started at home. Our family moved to Texas due to dad’s interest in silicon transistors, which were first produced by Texas Instruments, and defense electronics. The first transistor radio created was 1954. Hasn’t technology changed a lot?"

"I enjoy learning, sharing, collaborating and challenging margins when people say can’t. My father was an electrical engineer (who worked with Wernher von Braun in development of America's first satellite, Explorer I and Jupiter missile, but that's another story.) As a WWII veteran, my dad sustained an above-the-knee amputation during his service. He could fix almost anything around the house, but I was his “go-fer.” Go for this, go for that. I gathered tools for his projects and assisted him when he needed small fingers or someone to get into a small space," she said.

Rebecca Cagle holding a monitor lizard"Before the ADA [American Disabilities Act], to get to work, he had to walk a long way from the parking lot to his office. When he got home from work, the first thing he would do was to dress the sores on his stump from so much walking. Next, he would work a bit on his prosthesis, mending the lining and padding. My mother was a polio survivor and one of the lucky ones in which swim therapy worked. She instilled in her kids an understanding that one gives back to their community in service and she was always active in these endeavors—often recruiting me and my three older brothers to participate," Rebecca said.

"My brothers were quick to tell me I was too young or too small to participate, so there’s where I learned to challenge “can’t” at an early age. I fished, climbed trees, played whatever sport was going on in the yard at the time and had no fear of non-poisonous snakes, worms, etc. My “tea parties” had stuffed animals in attendance rather than dolls.

"One summer, when I was five and learning to read, I had mastered my first book, "Cat in the Hat." This same summer my mother, who was the local Cub Scout den mother, volunteered to allow a young girl, Teddy, with CP [cerebral palsy], I supposed to be about nine years old, to come to our home twice a week for patterning exercises given by the Cub Scouts."

Patterning therapy is a treatment which involves a series of bodily exercises, and other activities, which are intended to "rewire" the brain. "Visits to our house also gave her family some respite from caregiving. Teddy was not able to talk, sit up, or hold a book. I had never met anyone with such severe disability," Rebecca said.

Page from Cat in the Hat"During Teddy's patterning break time, I was asked to read to her. I felt so proud to be asked," Rebecca said. "I remember noticing how expressive her eyes were while reading and showing her the pictures from my "Cat in Hat" book. It was then that she truly engaged me and taught me there are many ways that people communicate—and for her, it was through her eyes. I recall saying to her, “It seems to me you really liked that part of the book, would you like me to read it again?” Her whole body seemed to respond, and I felt happy we were getting on so well. I also realized that she was a person bursting to get out and participate in life. The challenge now was to discover that mystery of how. And I guess you could say that has been my life quest-to discover and help others discover ways to express and participate in life."

Rebecca's upbeat nature complements her generous smile, empathic listening skills and friendly spirit. Those are just the qualities one would look for in a rehabilitation specialist—along with Rebecca's master of science degree in assistive technology studies and human services, of course. As an alumna of California State University, Northridge, Los Angeles, Calif., Rebecca also teaches assistive technology assessment and outcomes measures in CSUN's ATHS graduate program. She became interested in assistive technology when she was working on a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. Assistive technology is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities while also including the process used in selecting, locating and using them, Rebecca said. For a look at some cool assistive technology, check out these ingenious inventions.

Decorator Crab"One of my undergraduate classes covered AT. We visited a place in the Dallas Infomart called the Center for Computer Assistance to the Disabled, which is now closed, but it had a plethora of AT where people could come to see, try and get training in its use. John "Jack" Kishpaugh, started this non-profit in 1982. He had a master’s in business, was an Army veteran of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, but in 1967, he dove into a pool and broke his neck. Jack reminded me of a decorator crab—creatures that find things they like on the ocean floor and place them on their shells. Some of these things have a symbiotic relationship with the crab. They offer camouflage, and the crab feeds its “décor.” Jack had so much stuff on his wheelchair, it was great—most “gave back,” but he did sport some bling too.

"I realized Jack could do almost anything with AT—and I got hooked," she said.

Why does Rebecca think of a decorator crab? Well, before her career in rehabilitation she managed a pet shop. She has cared for lionfish, stonefish, octopuses, electric eels, piranha, poison arrow frogs, tarantulas, and various birds. Later, she had a pond and aquarium service business and also did pet-sitting on the side.

Rebecca worked in the UNT Office of Disability Accommodation for more than 10 years before she was selected in May 2017 to work in UNT WISE, headquartered in Chilton Hall. 

"I was fortunate to have collaborated with many departments when I worked at the ODA and still value those connections. Since the 90s, I have visited many Texas campuses for different events and still say UNT is one of the 'happiest students’ campuses in Texas. When walking from one building to another, or seeing students engaged in the Union, you will see and hear many folks laughing and connecting. I think that speaks volumes about how our students are being treated, and that the love of learning is vibrant here."

Ethan Ligon shows off his UNT green prosthetic eyes"I have met such great people at UNT and enjoy keeping up with them on social media. Getting retweeted by President Smatresk when I posted “UNT spirit personified” with a photo of Ethan Ligon’s new prosthetic eyes is the kind of interaction I like," Rebecca said.

Her experience also includes working as a rehabilitation specialist at Brookhaven College, Farmers Branch, Texas, special education teacher in the Dallas Independent School District, and research associate at UT Southwestern's Medical Burn Unit.

"UNTWISE values learning, collaboration, and like me, believes and puts into action training and programs that enhance employment outcomes for people with disabilities," Rebecca said.

UNTWISE is a premier training and consultancy group within the Department of Rehabilitation and Health Services at UNT. Since 2010, the group has trained and credentialed more than 2,225 individuals in employment services to enhance the outcomes in competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. UNTWISE also conducts training, hosts conferences, and provides technical assistance to community rehabilitation programs, CRP and organizations serving individuals with disabilities and provides more than 100 training events, serving more than 2,900 individuals, annually. The group partners with universities, vocational rehabilitation agencies and other stakeholders to develop new training and service programs based on the needs of specific communities. The summer Live and Learn camp and College WISE camps are designed for youth with disabilities ready to explore career pathways, learn about expectations of work and college life, and practice independent living skills.

Most days, she reads a few posts on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as well as blogs and podcasts from specific rehabilitation and AT sites. "I try to keep my finger on the pulse of these areas at the local, regional, state, national and international level. I have memberships in all these areas, which gives me more than enough to learn from," she said. "In a typical month, I attend three to five webinars. I plan, develop, produce and provide training course material specific to the employment of persons with disabilities, which includes pre-employment training services for youth with disabilities, rehabilitation personnel, people with disabilities looking to improve their employment skill sets, and rehabilitation stakeholders."

A passionate proponent of Universal Design, Rebecca said those with vision loss benefit tremendously from accessible design, and there are many others who benefit from equitable inclusion.

Universities and organizations alike are realizing when web accessibility and electronic information resources become a systemic culture and are system-wide and holistically woven into the fabric of the culture, the impact reaches a much greater audience.

A piece-meal approach to accessibility may fix one site, one class or one book, but a culture of “baked-in” accessibility during the creating and design phase has the greater impact. In the long term, universal design is more financially responsible too, she said.

"UNT Policy 14.005 says we—all faculty all staff—are committed to providing equal access in the work environment and to the university community. Included in this policy are the accessibility rules of the Texas Department of Information Resources. These are not new policies—yet closer attention to following them is needed in the way of training, funding and staff," Rebecca said. The ODA is not set up to take care of accessible-design issues. Many still believe if a website or online course materials are not accessible, the "ODA will fix it," but the purchasing process may have a better opportunity to prevent the problem than for the ODA to have to retro-fit or fix it.

“Baking in accessibility” on the front end, in the long run, is more efficient, more sustainable and less costly. By someone checking a product, book, workbook, software, etc., and saying no when it is not accessible, prevents exclusion. I have worked with vendors that were eager to make their products accessible. So keeping the dialogue going can be a win-win process," Cagle said.

"Textbook adoption, as well as online workbooks, should include accessibility consideration," Rebecca said. "In the purchasing process, the vendor is often asked whether the material or technology is accessible, but is not asked to demonstrate the accessibility or provide a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template. A VPAT is a document that evaluates how accessible a particular product is according to the Section 508 Standards. It is a self-disclosing document produced by the vendor which details each aspect of the Section 508 requirements and how the product supports each criterion."

  • Favorite app: iPhone-notes app. It’s simple, can annotate, email it, voice my notes, and automatically syncs with my other devices. I started an “appy hour” one summer with students who are blind/low vision. We met weekly at Fuzzy's. Each week one person would share one of their favorite apps with the group. It’s always more fun and faster to learn live. Now the “appy hour” concept has been adopted by Learning Ally (formerly called Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic). They have the world's largest library of human-narrated audiobooks.
  • Mac or PC: Both. Many students who are blind use Mac. The accessibility features are built in and those same features are within all Mac products. I try to set aside part of one day in a week to use Voice Over on my phone, Mac desktop or iPad to learn and develop more accessibility skills. Google Chrome has made great strides in app features for accessibility. Microsoft has invested a lot of resources in Office 365 and built-in accessibility features. Firefox has some great accessibility add-ons too-especially for visual loss or issues. So lots of learning to do!
  • LyndaCampus user? Yes! I’m pleased to see UNT has made it possible for UNT to access Lynda.com. I am usually in at least one online course of some kind at any given time through various sites. Lynda also ensures their videos have accurate captions and uses one of my favorites for captioning. I hope we will see more people from UNT create courses in Lynda.com-there is so much we could learn from each other.
  • Hobbies: Organic vegetable gardening, restoring my 1923 Denton home, kayaking and reading.
  • Sports: Ice hockey and football.
  • Family life: I have five grown kids and two young grandchildren.
  • Leisure time: work on my “Old House,” and cook. Favorite food: Gumbo
  • Favorite event at UNT: “Tagging” and raising the final UNT Union beam in 2014 with Scrappy. And my favorite yearly UNT event is the flag parade on University Day.
  • Favorite book: currently I am reading (listening to) mysteries from LibriVox (free and all books are in the public domain) that are written primarily between 1890-1925. I am learning a lot about how people spoke and wrote during those times. This somewhat ties into my “old house” hobby and gives me a better understanding of the times of prohibition, and the Roaring '20s.

Interested in more about AT?

Read about a tongue-vision device for the blind: navigating the world with through stimulation on the user's tongue using the “Brainport V100.
Nikki Lyssy, UNT student, sees the world with the help of technology.