Overcoming obstacles and igniting inspiration

Courtney Kerrigan

Disability coordinator being honored today for ‘inspiring’ work

Kelly Kulick, the disability coordinator for Student Accessibility Services at the Kent State University Stark Campus, works with sophomore biology major Natasha Ruffin on ways to make campus resources more accessible to her while she is in a wheelchair.

Credit: DKS Editors

A framed poster sits alone on a bookshelf in Kelly Kulick’s office. Its words reflect more than just an idea as it reads, “We believe there’s nothing more disabling than pity.”

The disability coordinator complements that statement admirably as she sits with Matt Digiacomo, a freshman leisure studies major, who sits in a wheelchair. She discusses possible testing accommodations with him, but what Kulick doesn’t realize is that she is creating a comfortable and personable environment without even knowing it.

While her own battle with multiple sclerosis has had a humbling impact on her personally, it has also left an inspiring mark on both her coworkers and students.

Kulick devotes her time and patience every day to disabled students, such as Digiacomo, at the Stark Campus for Student Accessibility Services. Although she works mainly with assigning academic accommodations, Kulick has also worked her way into the hearts of those around her.

Richard Brownfield, a senior at Mount Union College, is a former student of Kulick’s and an example of the effect Kulick has on people.

“I was always amazed and inspired by the persistent drive Mrs. Kulick exhibited,” Brownfield said. “Her encouragement inspired me to enroll at Mount Union.”

Not only did Kulick’s work with Brownfield drive him to become a student at Mount Union, it also emboldened him to nominate Kulick for the first Individual of Inspiration Award through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

To her astonishment, she won.

After 14 years at Kent State and one significant phone call out of the hundreds she receives, Kulick will be honored for all of her work today at the “On the Move Luncheon for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society” in Independence.

While Brownfield and the MS Society believe she deserves the first award of its kind for inspiring others, Kulick said she thinks differently.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything inspirational,” Kulick said. “I’ve just lived my life. The people that inspire me are the 287 students that I have in my office right now.”

Kulick remains modest and repeatedly explains that getting so much attention is embarrassing. She said she wants to give the award right back to her students.

She constantly strives to ensure that students dealing with anything from psychiatric and psychological disabilities to blind and deaf barriers have the accommodations that were scarce for her when she attended Kent State.

“I happen to have this position, and I’m very blessed,” Kulick said. “When I’m having a bad day, all I have to do is open my file, and it brings me right back to Earth.”

Kulick first discovered her illness 20 years ago when she began having trouble with simple tasks such as speaking and walking. The sudden onset of bizarre symptoms put her in the hospital for two and a half months.

At 31, Kulick was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

With her husband, Richard, and children, Jason and Jackie, at her side, Kulick was forced to adapt to her health issues and learn how to tackle everyday tasks differently, such as driving with hand controls.

“There’s a uniqueness with having an illness at this age,” Kulick said. “You know that the disability is there every time you take a step, but you work around it to get to your goal.”

When she first became sick, Kulick said she began volunteering with the National Multiple Sclerosis society. As her time there progressed, she served as a member and chair of a government relations committee for the MS Society and began traveling to Washington and Columbus talking to legislatures about issues of disability.

Kulick said she was aiming to put a face to a cause.

She is also a member of the Massillon Walk MS committee in which her husband is a volunteer liaison.

“I have the ability to do a lot more than a lot of people with MS, so with that comes responsibility,” Kulick said. “Disability can be an inconvenience, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a lifestyle.”

Contact features correspondent Courtney Kerrigan at [email protected].