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My Job: Raquel O'Neill

The Disabilities Resource Center director on the sometimes limited thinking of those without disabilities and why her broken M&M stapler is an inspiration.
People  |  Jul 16, 2014  |  By Paige Frank
Raquel O’Neill, Disability Resource Center interim director. (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Photo Services)

Working as a student in the Disability Resource Center sparked Raquel O'Neill's interest in giving back to people who live with a disability. After stints with Easter Seals and the Nevada Bureau of Services to the Blind and Visually Impaired, O'Neill returned to UNLV and now serves as the Disability Resource Center's interim director. She received her bachelor and master of social work degrees in 2003 and 2006, respectively.

What's your job, in a nutshell?

I work with students who have different abilities. They need to be able to access learning through alternative ways, and the center accommodates them. I get to oversee the implementation of these accommodations for students who are qualified to participate in services from our center. I serve as a campus expert on the topic of disability.

How can others on campus make your job easier?

Say "hello." I am blind so it is really hard to maintain friendships without always initiating contact. It's typically when you are busy talking with someone else that I realize you are there. After a while, I promise that I will recognize your voice.

What would make your day perfect?

It is always refreshing to hear about a student who is doing well despite their challenges in life. An ounce of positive attitude goes a long way in making my day perfect.

What's the biggest misconception about your job?

There is still the long-standing notion that persons with disabilities have limitations that preclude them from participating in everyday living. Most often I find that it is not the student who has the limitation but rather others who find it difficult to think outside of the box. Someone with a disability may not be able to complete a task in typical fashion, but they may be able to in their own way, resulting in the same outcome.

What makes you successful at your job?

Flexibility, creativity, and a desire to see people reach their potential make me successful.

What's your best piece of advice for students?

Don't let people define you. Everyone has something to offer the world, so just keep doing what you love, and eventually you will figure out what you were made for.

What's the story behind your favorite tchotchke in your workspace?

My husband decided that my office is too bland, so he bought colorful M&M office supplies, including a functioning stapler with three M&M figures attached to it. One day, a student of mine decided to use the stapler vigorously and happened to break the legs off the last M&M fellow on the stapler. The student was very upset about marring my stapler. Without thinking I just blurted out, "That's OK. Now he's just like us." See, even though the M&M has no legs, the stapler still works just fine." The student laughed and now comes to use the stapler throughout the semester before turning in papers as a confidence booster.

If you weren't working here, what would you be doing?

Staying at home being a mommy to a wonderful 2-year-old son.

Dream vacation?

I would ride horseback in the English countryside, stay at a quiet bed and breakfast, and explore historical churches and castles.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I love to play the guitar and sing.

Who do you want to thank for the job they do on campus?

I'd like to thank the janitors and groundskeepers. Cleaning up after people is not an easy job. They are always kind and considerate. I also thank the campus police staff for all they do to protect our campus. Finally, I thank acting President (Donald) Snyder for keeping us going.

If you were given a $1 million grant to make a campus improvement, start a new program, or improve one we already have, where would you put that money?

I'd put it toward creating an assistive technology lab for veterans and students with disabilities. New technology is often the vehicle that makes many tasks possible for persons with disabilities.