2012 RI Governor’s Commission on Disabilities Fellow

RIC computer science major William Potter earned the RI Governor’s Commission on Disabilities Fellowship after a lifetime of advocating for the disabled. The fellowship comes with a stipend of over $3,000, along with academic credit.

Born blind, Potter said he applied for the disabilities fellowship, which ends in August 2013, because he wanted to learn more about the civil side of ADA law. As a fellow, he will be developing instructional materials for technicians at polling booths to provide the best services for voters with disabilities.

His advocacy work began at a young age. He learned Braille at age 3 and was tutoring other children who were blind or visually impaired at age 10. By 15 he was presenting at a disabilities conference on assistive technology. By 19 he was hired by the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) to suggest improvements on ADA accessibility.

“I was hired by RIPTA after I attended an open meeting held by RIPTA’s advisory panel,” Potter said. “I told the panel about the problems for people with disabilities who ride the bus. I said, here is the research I’ve done, citing ADA laws, and here is what I’d like to propose. They said, since you know how to fix the problem, come and work for us. I worked at RIPTA as a paid intern for three years. I now work for them in a consultation position.”

Potter is also the youngest member of a number of city and state boards:

He sits on the Rhode Island Vision Services Advisory Board, which reports to the Board of Governors. His role is to assess the practices being used to educate students with visual impairments and blindness.

On the North Kingston Special Education Advisory Committee he reviews Individualized Education Plans (IEP) policies that the school district uses to ensure students with disabilities receive the accommodations they need.

On the Rhode Island Vision Education Services and Programs Advisory Board, a state-run board affiliated with the Paul V. Sherlock Center for Disabilities at Rhode Island College, he examines national reports by the U.S. Department of Education on best education practices for students with visual impairments and blindness.

And he is a member of the Rhode Island College Advocacy and Beyond Club to raise awareness and advocate for accessibility changes on campus.