Social work school
at UH wins MS award

Kai Duponte, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis six years ago, said she did not consider possible barriers when she began a new job in the University of Hawaii School of Social Work.

She said that since then the school administration's attitude and accommodations allowed her to work as director of the Hawaii Child Welfare Education Collaboration, a project that recruits and trains master's-level social work students for the public child welfare system.

The school received the 2003 MS Employer of the Year award at the annual meeting of the Multiple Sclerosis Society Oct. 18.

Interim Dean Jon Matsuoka said he hoped all employers would provide reasonable accommodations someday, making such awards unnecessary.

In a nomination speech for the school, Duponte said the university campus presented new challenges when she began work there in September 2001.

She said most UH-Manoa employees park in the parking structure because of "the infamously tight parking situation on campus," but it is quite a distance from where she works.

"When I heard this, I realized that my dreams for my new job were about to be crushed."

She then discovered she could get a handicapped-parking permit that allows her to park anywhere on campus. And the School of Social Work allowed her to have a flexible working schedule to meet her needs, she said.

She said the school also "has made the environment very pleasant for me. It is an informal, nonlabeling one where making reasonable accommodations just seems to come naturally. I am not made to feel embarrassed or second class."

The MS Employer of the Year award is presented annually by the MS Society to recognize employers who make significant contributions toward hiring and retention of workers with multiple sclerosis and other disabilities. It is also intended to recognize positive employment practices and encourage such efforts by employers.

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system with unpredictable symptoms. They can range from numbness and blurred vision to paralysis or blindness.


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