Creating a Grassroots Statewide Coalition for Disability: Lessons Learned from Virginia

Presented at 9:15am in Matchless on Wednesday, November 8, 2023.



  • Barbara Zunder, Director, University of Virginia
  • Korey Singleton, ATI Manager, George Mason University
  • Mark Nichols, Sr. Dir. Universal Design & Accessible Technologies, Virginia Tech
  • Lori Kressin, Coordinator of Academic Accessibility, University of Virginia

Session Details

  • Length of Session: 1-hr
  • Format: Panel
  • Expertise Level: All Levels
  • Type of session: General Conference


In 2018, colleagues from around Virginia created a statewide coalition, eventually known as the Virginia Higher Education Accessibility Partners (VHEAP), to collaborate on broad accessibility-related topics. This grassroots effort has led to rich collaborations on different state-wide accessibility efforts. Join a panel of colleagues from UVA, George Mason and Virginia Tech as they discuss how VHEAP was formed and lessons learned along the way.


The Virginia Higher Education Accessibility Partners, or VHEAP, was established in 2018 to promote collaboration and partnership between accessibility-focused professionals throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Looking at accessibility from a holistic perspective, events and resources supported and offered by VHEAP are broad, encouraging collaborative solutions. VHEAP’s focus is on offering shared opportunities for those who are tasked with improving access to information and communications technology resources, those who focus on the built environment, and those who provide services for Virginians with disabilities. Our membership is comprised of individuals in higher education, public school systems, and executive branch offices reporting to the Governor.

Finding connections and collaborations across different types of institutions, state agencies, and even in the K-12 system can be difficult for any one person to navigate. However, the advantages of creating rich partnerships can far outweigh the costs, as people can learn from one another, delve into best practices, decrease the duplicative effort of any one institution, and even leverage collective bargaining power to negotiate better vendor contracts or lobby for legislative updates. During this session, you will hear from individuals from various Virginia institutions who worked together to create this grassroots organization. The panel will discuss how the group came to be, how it expanded beyond higher education, discuss some of the efforts that VHEAP has focused on, future goals and aspirations, and consider some of the lessons learned along the way.


  1. Collaborations can lead to rich learning and opportunities for all members.
  2. Collaboration can decrease duplicative efforts across institutions.
  3. Effective change can happen when institutions, agencies, and school systems work together toward a common goal

Disability Areas

All Areas

Topic Areas

Other, Uncategorized

Speaker Bio(s)

Barbara Zunder

Barbara Zunder is the Director of the Student Disability Access Center at the University of Virginia. She provides leadership and managerial oversight to work towards the mission to ensure that services are not only compliant to all federal and state measures, but that UVA promotes a culture which encourages and welcomes a fully accessible student experience. She has been working with students with disabilities in higher education for 20 years.

Korey Singleton

Korey Singleton is the Assistive Technology Initiative (ATI) Manager for George Mason University (GMU), operating under Mason’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He also an affiliate faculty member in the College of Education and Human Development, teaching a course on Web Accessibility & Design in the Learning Design and Technology Program. He has been an advocate for the assistive technology and digital accessibility needs of individuals with disabilities in the home, in school, and in the workplace for over 25 years.

Mark Nichols

Mark Nichols is the Senior Director for Universal Design and Accessible Technologies at Virginia Tech. He works within the Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS) unit within the Provost’s office. Mark joined Virginia Tech in 2017 and previously spent 15 years within K-12 overseeing Assistive Technology services. Mark is an active member of the National AEM Advisory Committee, Past-Chair of the Virginia Higher Education Accessibility Partners (VHEAP), and Secretary/Treasurer of the UDL Higher Education Network with the UDL-IRN. Mark has a personal interest in the maker movement and connections to the field of AT.

Lori Kressin

Reporting under the Executive Vice President and Provost, Lori Kressin is in her ninth year as the Coordinator of Academic Accessibility, having served the University of Virginia for over 30 years in a variety of positions. Her role is to assure the accessibility of the academic experience for all; including the built, digital, and attitudinal environments. Focusing on coordination of effort across the University, Lori relies on the connections she has made during her tenure to create key partnerships across departments to further accessibility efforts University wide. She has presented at a variety of regional, national and international conferences and workshops including Accessing Higher Ground, the CSUN Assistive Technology Conference, and the NADP Conference in England.