Five minutes with… Kelly Dormer, disability specialist at Student Disability Services – Today @ Wayne

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For Kelly Dormer, her job as a disability specialist at Student Disability Services is personal and rewarding.

Kelly Dormer has been arrested twice … for driving too slow. She has a collection of rubber ducks (75 and over). While an undergraduate student 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 mistakenly downloaded her dog’s vaccination records at the campus health center twice in lieu of her COVID-19 and flu vaccination records.

But for all the fun and frivolity of Kelly’s life, she’s extremely serious about her job. And it was a personal handicap that led her to a career in disability services. Let’s take five minutes to learn more about Kelly Dormer.

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

I like the students. We have really resilient students who manage so personally and healthily, but still show up every semester and work hard to graduate. Whenever I get the chance to offer them a service or support that makes some part of their struggle easier, I feel like I’m making a difference by allowing someone to move forward towards their goal.

I identify as a person with a disability. I was diagnosed with epilepsy in my first year in college and spent most of my undergrad trying to find treatment to manage my symptoms. I completed my undergraduate studies with an incredible support system of truly understanding and supportive friends and faculty members who gave me a lot of leeway to get things done when I felt up to the task. I refused to register with the SDS office at the time and I regret how much I hurt myself by being too proud to use the resources at my disposal. I understand what it’s like to navigate through college and all the changes that take place at this stage of life while having a chronic unmanaged condition and the burden of being a patient.

This work is personal to me, and I want to support the students as I would have liked to have allowed myself to be supported. I also have partial hearing loss. I always handled it well without housing… until we had to hide. In face-to-face meetings, it can be exhausting because my brain works twice as hard to hear what people are saying, let alone process it. It has been a new lesson in humility and confidence in professional circles to ask for what I need to fully participate. If I can’t do it well, how can I guide my students to do it right?

I also like the opportunities I have to collaborate more broadly on campus with faculty and staff through committee work. There are so many people who are deeply committed not only to WSU and our mission, but also to supporting our colleagues in their own work. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn and work with so many passionate and intelligent people across campus and to be able to use my voice to raise issues regarding people with disabilities and promote disability as an important part of the diversity of our campus.

Have you traveled to many faraway places?

I studied abroad in Ireland undergraduate and the program focused on people with disabilities and really cemented my interest in the work I do. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Spain and Portugal for three weeks and took our 6 month old son to Prague. My husband’s business is based in Dubai, which opened up the possibility of traveling abroad before the pandemic. Hope we can go back soon!

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

Campus Health, Accessibility Working Group, Divisional ESS and Promotion Committee, Academic Senate, Academic Senate Policy Committee, and I am co-chair of the DCI Senate Working Group.

Kelly Dormer’s collection of rubber ducks has around 75 ducks, most of which were given to her by friends.

I am also a member of the Academic Leadership Academy 2021-2022 and my plan is to develop a series of faculty accessibility workshops that will foster the development of accessible and inclusive learning environments.

Where can you find rubber ducks?

I had my first one in London when I was traveling. He is dressed as a guard at Buckingham Palace. Most have since been brought to me by friends who know my penchant for rubber ducks. I took great pleasure in collecting them.


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