As an Ohio State University graduate, biomedical engineer, certified Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator and entrepreneur, Jen Schlegel has long used technology to help her go where she wants to go and do what she wants to do.
Some of her assistive devices are simple enough to work by way of duct tape or Velcro. Others involve complex software, apps and 3D printing. “My life runs on technology,” said Schlegel, 29, winner of the 2020 OSU President’s Prize for her dedication to improving lives through accessible educational experiences.
Schlegel also is a new central Ohio ambassador for the Ohio Tech Ambassador Network. The statewide effort promotes the use of supportive technology through interactive web and in-person mentoring sessions led by people with disabilities.
You seem to have a very full plate. Why become a Tech Ambassador?
I ran across the Tech Ambassadors last year when I was pretty ill. I remember thinking how important efforts like this are, and how representation matters. I try to engage in opportunities that allow me to be the adult I was always looking for as a young person.
A peer called you ‘The Idea Fountain.’ You find, modify or invent all sorts of things, right?
I’m from a rural county, and I learned pretty early that the world around me was not accommodating. So I was going to have to adjust to accommodating the world. I think if I total all the various devices I have now, it’s something like 75. I’m always looking for something different to solve a problem.
Describe one of your simplest creations.
In high school, I wanted to play this giant xylophone, but I couldn’t hang onto the mallet. So we came up with a duct-tape glove.
You deal with both disability and chronic illness. How does that drive your creativity?
My creativity might be applauded, but it all really came about because of need. When I was born, my parents were told I wasn’t going to walk, talk or be anything. I love defying that! In 2016, I got very, very sick in addition to my cerebral palsy and other conditions. I went home after five weeks in the hospital and had to get new door locks I could use. That’s how my life turned into, ‘How can I automate everything I can?’
Technology can be intimidating for many of us.
It’s very important to me to meet everyone where they’re at. I recognize that I’m in a unique position, and I want to use that to serve my community. We’re all human, and we all deserve a great life experience. That’s what I’m fighting for.
To learn more, go to ohiotechambassadors.org