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Mobility Matters founder Amy Parker shares her passion for inclusion
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: March 9, 2020
Mobility Matters founder Amy Parker, Ed.D., explains that the roots of her passion for inclusion are grounded in her family’s love.
 

Parkers recalls a visit to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky in the 1980s with her parents and three siblings, including her sister Melody, who uses a wheelchair.

The park now has a webpage on its site devoted to accessibility, but at the time, there was only one usable trail for people in wheelchairs, and it was a short path. It didn’t matter. Her family simply went on that little trail together.

“For my parents, it wasn’t even a thought in their mind to go anywhere without Melody,” Parker said. “It was simply, ‘We’re only going to do things where she can go.’”

Parker’s sister and the way her family supported Melody influenced who Parker is today, she said. In turn, Parker’s devotion to inclusion has improved the lives of those around her. She is a PSU assistant professor in the Special Education Department of the College of Education. In 2018, Parker founded Mobility Matters, a summit that shares advances in technology and new approaches for transportation systems that benefit people with disabilities. Slated to return on March 18 at Portland State University, the third-annual Mobility Matters will feature youth leaders and focus on youth themes, although the event continues to be aimed at people of all ages and abilities.

Parker’s Professional Past

Parker is not only the initiator of Mobility Matters, but also the coordinator of the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) program in her department. O&M professionals teach people with visual impairments how to travel safely. Parker said that too often O&M practitioners are responding to the way roads and the surrounding cityscape is designed, retrofitting structures for people with disabilities.

“I wanted Mobility Matters to be a way that O&M practitioners and people with disabilities in the community could help lead the conversation and be a part of the design, take more of a proactive than a reactive approach to constructing the world,” she said.

Her contributions to transportation for people with disabilities haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2018, Parker was awarded an honorary membership to the Portland chapter of Women in Transportation, an accolade she shares with luminaries such as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

Parker cemented her reputation as a passionate proponent of inclusion and access for people with disabilities long before, while earning her doctorate at Texas Tech University. She became a member of a transdisciplinary research academy focusing on international partnerships in higher education, literacy, and people with disabilities. Active in Washington D.C. for years, Parker connected with young people with disabilities to ensure their voices were heard at the apex of government.

“I always wanted youth with disabilities to help lead conversations and not just have the conversations be about them,” said Parker, also the president of the Division on Visual Impairment and Deafblindness within the Council for Exceptional Children.

Parker's Supporters

Parker’s efforts to help people with disabilities be heard led to the creation of DeafBlind Citizens in Action (DBCA), and its local members will be speakers at Mobility Matters this month.

One of the people helping with the conference is Sam Phillips, a PSU student worker for O&M and the Visually Impaired Learner (VIL) programs, who is also studying rehabilitation counseling in the COE.

“I think for me personally, what I love about working with Amy is that she has such a passion for what she does,” Phillips said. “She is dedicated to building community and lifting up the voices of other people, and I always feel that I am heard when we have a conversation.”

Becky Morton, the graduate administrative assistant for Mobility Matters, said that Amy's “confidence and expertise” are complemented by the “warmth and positivity she exudes.”

“She has high expectations for her collaborators and students,” Morton said. “Her open-minded approach to teaching encourages students, like myself, to think independently, rather than to simply find the right answer.’ She has an amazing knack for motivating those around her to work hard and do their best. She is truly committed to the field of O&M. She understands the importance of including people who happen to have disabilities themselves in the conversation and process.”

COE Assistant Professor Holly Lawson, Ph.D., who is helping with Mobility Matters planning, said that she is honored to have Parker as a colleague and friend at PSU.

“She is one of the most dedicated and hard-working people I know,” said Lawson, coordinator of the VIL program. “She has a gift for bringing people together and building community partnerships.”

Parker exemplifies the COE value of inclusion. She believes in bringing people with disabilities into the conversation. She knows a close community is united, just as a loving family would never abandon one of its own because of who they are. That’s because members of a family or a community are connected.

“Melody is a huge part of who I am; she really is,” Parker said.

Photo: Top row: On the right is Mobility Matters founder Amy (Tollerson) Parker. Parker is with her siblings (from left to right): top row: John Tollerson; bottom row, Matt Tollerson and Melody Tollerson. They are playing Rook over Christmas at Melody Tollerson's home in Tennessee. Photo by Abby Parker (Amy Parker's daughter)

To share stories on the College of Education, email Jillian Daley at jillian@pdx.edu.

Mobility Matters 2020 Event Details

General Admission: $130
Students: $45
Learn more: For details, view this video from last year’s event or enjoy a recent article on the PSU website

Questions? Contact Assistant Professor Amy Parker at omsummit@pdx.edu. If you are having trouble reading the program, please email omsummit@pdx.edu or access a print version here: https://mobilitymatters2020.sched.com/print