October 27, 2021

Five minutes with … Kelly Dormer, disability specialist at Student Disability Services

For Kelly Dormer, her work as a disability specialist at Student Disability Services is one that's personal and rewarding.

Kelly Dormer has twice been pulled over ... for driving too slowly. She has a rubber duck collection (75 and counting). While she was an undergrad at Michigan State University, she was a finalist to appear on the reality show Big Brother  — but don’t tell her parents … they still don’t know. She has mistakenly uploaded her dog’s vaccination records to the Campus Health Center twice instead of her COVID-19 and flu vaccination documentation.

But for all the fun and frivolity in Kelly’s life, she is deadly serious about her job. And it was a personal disability that led her to a career in disability services. Let’s spend five minutes learning more about Kelly Dormer.

What gives you the most satisfaction in your job? What is one of the biggest challenges you face?

I love the students. We have some really resilient students who are managing so much personally and health wise but still show up every semester and work hard to earn their degree. Whenever I have an opportunity to offer them a service or support that eases some of their struggle, I feel like I am making a difference in someone being able to make strides toward their goal.

I identify as a person with a disability. I was diagnosed with epilepsy as a freshman in college and spent most of undergrad trying to find a treatment to manage my symptoms. I got through undergrad with an amazing support system of friends and some really understanding and encouraging faculty members who gave me a lot of leeway to get things done when I felt up to it. I refused to register with the SDS office at the time and I regret how hard I made things for myself by being too proud to use the resources available to me. I understand what it’s like to navigate college and all the change going on in this stage of life while also having an unmanaged chronic health condition and the burden of being a patient.

This work is personal to me, and I want to support students the way I wish I’d allowed myself to be supported. I also have partial hearing loss. I’ve always managed that well without accommodation…until we had to mask up. In person meetings, it can be exhausting because my brain is working twice as hard to hear what people are saying, let alone process it. It’s been a new lesson in humility and how to be confident in professional settings to ask for what I need to fully participate. If I can’t do that well, how can I guide my students to do that well?

I also love the opportunities I have to collaborate more broadly on campus with faculty and staff through committee work. There are so many people deeply committed not only to WSU and to our mission but to supporting colleagues in their own work. I feel fortunate to have opportunities to learn from and work with so many passionate and intelligent people across campus and to be able to use my voice to elevate issues concerning individuals with disabilities and promote disability as a rich part of our campus diversity.

Have you traveled to many faraway places?

I studied abroad in Ireland in undergrad and the program focused on people with disabilities and really cemented my interest in the work I do. My husband and I honeymooned in Spain and Portugal for three weeks and we took our son at 6 months old to Prague. My husband’s company is based in Dubai, which opened up opportunity to travel internationally pre-pandemic. Hopefully we can get back out there soon!

You mentioned committee work. What committees do you serve on?

Campus Health, Accessibility Working Group, Divisional ESS and Promotion Committee, Academic Senate, Academic Senate Policy Committee, and I’m co-chair of the Senate’s DEI Working Group.

Kelly Dormer's rubber duck collection sits at about 75 and counting, most of them gifted to her by friends.

I am also a 2021-22 Academic Leadership Academy fellow and my project is working to develop a faculty accessibility workshop series that will promote development of accessible and inclusive learning environments.

Just where does one find rubber ducks?

I got my first one in London when I was traveling. It’s dressed as a Buckingham Palace guard. Since then, most of them have been gifted to me by friends who are aware of my fondness for rubber ducks. I’ve had lots of fun collecting them.

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