Scholar Category: Disabilities

Zoe Grisez

Project: I am working to further disability inclusion in the media (TV shows, movies, advertisements, etc.). It is rare that there ever is a disabled character featured in the media, and when they are, they are often depicted as a source of inspiration to make the main characters feel better about their lives. I would like to change that stigma and increase the thought that disabled characters could be a love interest, funny side character, or really anything!

Inspiration: As I went through the college application process and toured the universities, they all had a point during their presentation where they bragged about how diverse they were. There would be a PowerPoint slides showing their diversity, emphasizing on the different races and ethnicities on campus. But there was never a disabled student. As everyone else would nod in agreement that, yes this is a diverse campus, I would shake my head as I never saw someone who looked like me. So I would like to try to encourage a FULL diversity, and do so through the media.

Future Plans: I hope to increase the amount of disabled characters depicted on TV shows and movies. I think it is very important that all minorities are represented so that younger generations can learn more. As younger generations are exposed more and more to different people, they are less likely to think of them as different and more likely to just think of them as people.

Cicilia Saenz

Project: Creation of an after school program in low income communities for Special Education students and families.


Inspiration: My inspiration for my Puksta Project came from my own experience within the system as a student with a learning disability.


Future Plans for Project: I would like to create a community where students and their families feel like they are supported and informed.

Sophia “Rosie” Contino

Project: Publishing research to make sexual health curriculums more accessible to students with intellectual disabilities. Hoping to use this research to develop a tool/resource for caregivers and parents to use when engaging in conversations about sexual health with their student. All in all, my goal is to help eliminate the stigma attached to “sexuality and intellectual disability”.

Inspiration: I was inspired to pursue this project initially through my work with the Sexual Assault Victims Advocate (SAVA). In my time at SAVA, I was made aware of a disturbing statistic: Children with disabilities are four times more likely to experience sexual abuse than children without (Sullivan & Knutson, 2000). After more research, I discovered that this issue is not only disturbingly widespread but also devastatingly underreported and virtually unknown to the general public.
Once I became aware of this issue, I could not stop thinking about it. Since my own brother was born with Sotos Syndrome, I have an understanding of just how vulnerable people living with developmental disabilities can be. I continued to learn about this problem and came to the conclusion that people with disabilities are subject to abuse primarily because the majority of them have no sexual health education; if they were to experience sexual abuse, they couldn’t report it because they themselves are not sure what happened.


Future Plans for Project: I want to empower people living with both developmental and physical disabilities by  providing them with an individualized sexual health education so that they are less vulnerable to sexual abuse.



Sabrina Pribyl

Project: I have the privilege of joining David Purcella’s project Puppy Pals, which was created to assist and ensure success in school for students with disabilities.

Inspiration: My early dedication to education and advocacy for disabilities inspired me to choose to join David’s project.

Future Plans for Project: I aspire to change community’s perspectives of disabilities, spread education and awareness, and potentially change the lives of people who have disabilities.

Stuart Hayden

What are you up to now?

Sometimes I rehabilitate a 120 year old house in Pueblo, or visit my 87 year old grandfather in Denver. Otherwise, I just try to keep my 30 year old bicycle rolling after hitting too many potholes, and having no road map.

Michael Chen

What are you up to now?

After graduating from the University of Denver, Michael attended the University of Maryland and graduated with a Masters degree in Data Analytics, as well as a Masters of Business Administration. He currently is the HR Data Analytics Lead for DCP Midstream and backpacks the world in his spare time.

Michael’s LinkedIn Profile

Puksta Project

Working with Special Olympics Colorado has been something that I’ve been involved with since high school. Bringing attention to inappropriate usage of the word “retard” is something that people should be actively aware of. I am guilty of having used the R-word inappropriately and it wasn’t until I was able to work with individuals with an intellectual disability, did I realize the impact my words have. My Puksta project revolved around bringing awareness to the inappropriate usage of the word “retard”.

David Purcella

Project: Teaching and mentoring young disabled students in literacy, and other areas of interest while making them more confident entering their classroom. In addition to teaching and mentoring, I hope to inspire those to further their education and getting a degree.

Inspiration: I am inspired by my history, and how I have previously struggled to learn how to read, write, and speak without facing issues of my own.

Future Plans for Project: I hope that I impact the young students I help, and that they see a positive change in their way of reading, writing, and speaking.