September 25, 2006

SIUC to honor IBHE Chair James Kaplan

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will honor Illinois Board of Higher Education Chair James L. Kaplan on Thursday, Sept. 28, for his leadership in improving the educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

He will receive a plaque designating him a champion of the rights of disabled students to equal access to education and will hear from some of those who have benefited from his efforts how that access has changed their lives.

"Even before he was chairman, he held meetings all over the state; the theme was how to better serve the state's disabled students," said Kathleen Plesko, director of SIUC's Disability Support Services.

"When he ascended to the chairmanship, that became one of his top priorities. He turned the light on in the room."

Because of Kaplan, SIUC received funding that enabled it to adapt computers so that those with special needs could use them, Plesko said. State funding also has underwritten the University's summer camp program aimed at students who want to go to college but fear they can't fit in.

"They think they can't, and they find out they can," Plesko said.

The camp mixes academic endeavors with a strong dose of fun.

"The focus in the morning is on academic success — how to use adapted computers, study skills, study resources, that sort of thing," she said. "In the afternoon, the total focus is on fun: rock wall climbing, swimming, basketball — anything fun on campus, they can do. One girl told me last summer it was the first time she felt she was normal."

Kaplan, an IBHE member since 1999, has a longstanding interest in aiding those with disabilities. He played an active role on the Committee for Access and Diversity. He also put together a guide for parents seeking education for their children with special needs and is past chairman of the Illinois State Advisory Council on the Education of Children With Disabilities.

A resident of Lincolnshire, Kaplan is a managing partner of the Chicago law firm Kaplan and Sorosky.