WMU News

Wiener gets national award for work in rehabilitation

July 28, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Dr. William R. Wiener, dean of the Graduate College at Western Michigan University, has won the nation's top award for service to those who are blind or visually impaired.

Wiener is the 2004 winner of the Ambrose M. Shotwell Memorial Award. Presented by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the lifetime achievement honor was awarded July 16 at AER's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The Shotwell Award, named for an early 20th-century pioneer in the field, was established in 1939 to honor individuals whose leadership contributions at the national and international level have affected the personal adjustment and rehabilitation of persons who are blind or visually impaired. Previous award winners include Helen Keller, as well as three people responsible for founding WMU's groundbreaking program in the field. Before assuming his current post, Wiener served for 14 years as chairperson of WMU's Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies, and he remains active in research and professional service in the discipline.

"This was such a humbling experience," says Wiener, who as past president of AER presided over several such award ceremonies. "I've always felt I've received much more back from the field than I was ever able to give it, but happily, my colleagues don't seem to agree with my assessment."

A number of contributions made by Wiener to the profession were singled out by AER as the reasons for the honor. They include his contributions to the overall study of blindness and his work in the area of orientation and mobility--known as O&M. Wiener has led the O&M programs at both Cleveland State University and WMU. At WMU, he expanded his service to people with handicaps through the creation of a new academic discipline aimed at providing travel instruction for people with disabilities. After creating a curriculum and set of standards for travel instruction, he founded the Association for Travel Instruction and today serves as president-elect of that national organization.

The past head of the editorial board of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, Wiener also is the author of more than 50 articles and the editor of two books. His textbook, "Foundations of Orientation and Mobility," is used in literally all university programs in the field. In addition, he currently serves as a board member for the American Foundation for the Blind, and he is a past board member of the National Council on Rehabilitation Education.

Wiener has developed certification examinations for O&M professionals, an Easter Seals curriculum for accessible pedestrian signals and a model program for O&M assistants. He also led the AER committee that formulated a code of ethics for professionals in orientation and mobility.

Honored repeatedly in the past for his contributions, Wiener says the Shotwell Award represents the pinnacle for someone in the field of blindness. He is the fourth person connected to the WMU program to receive the award. Earlier recipients include Donald Blasch and Stanley Suterko, who together established the University's program in 1961 and served as director and assistant director, respectively. Another honoree was Russell Williams, who headed the Veterans Administration's blind rehabilitation efforts and encouraged Blasch to begin the WMU graduate training program.

"It is unprecedented for an institution to have so many people honored by AER," says Wiener. "But at the same time, it is understandable. WMU really helped start the fields of rehabilitation teaching, orientation and mobility, and we have the oldest program in existence."

Wiener first came to WMU in 1986 as chairperson of the Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Cleveland State in 1969 and 1978, respectively, a second master's degree from WMU in 1970 and a doctoral degree from Kent State University in 1985.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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