Oluwaferanmi Okanlami has been named director of Student Accessibility and Accommodation Services. His appointment was effective July 1.

In this role, Okanlami will oversee three key resources: Services for Students with Disabilities, the U-M Adaptive Sports & Fitness Program, and the existing Testing and Accommodation Centers.

The goal is to move beyond simply providing educational accommodations to students with disabilities toward a more holistic approach of supporting students that simultaneously increases the focus on accessibility and inclusion.

Okanlami has served as SSD interim director since July 1, 2020, and has also served as director of the Adaptive Sports and Fitness Program — a program housed within Student Life in collaborative partnership with Michigan Medicine — since 2020.

Often referred to as “Dr. O,” Okanlami will champion advocacy-related efforts across the institution.

“Every student and every community on our campus should have equitable access to the resources they need to have an amazing University of Michigan experience,” Okanlami said. “This centralization of services is unique among campus communities and marks a significant leap forward in U-M’s ability to provide increased access to and support for our disabled student community.”

Under Okanlami’s leadership in the past year, SSD began addressing identified opportunities to enhance its existing suite of services and better meet the needs of students with disabilities.

Leveraging information gathered by a needs assessment done by Rackham and recommendations made by the Student IDEA Board, the SSD team has reduced barriers that previously made the process of connecting with the office and receiving accommodations feel unnecessarily burdensome to students. Another area of focus for Okanlami has been elevating the disabled community’s visibility, both across the university and nationally.

Okanlami, assistant professor of family medicine, physical medicine & rehabilitation, and urology at the Medical School, is uniquely positioned to lead these efforts. In 2013, while in his third year of orthopaedic surgery residency at Yale University, he suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down with limited use of his upper extremities.

After several years of rehabilitation, he has seen first-hand the difference that access to appropriate accommodations can make in a learner’s life. He was able to earn a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in engineering, science and technology entrepreneurship, and completed a family medicine residency in South Bend, Indiana.

While he identifies as a proud wheelchair user, he has also regained some ability to walk using assistive devices, some of which he worked with a rehabilitation engineer to design and create. Suddenly experiencing life “from the other side of the stethoscope,” as he calls it, Okanlami says he is dedicated to “focusing on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion broadly, but now as an individual living at the intersection of disability and race.”

“I am delighted that Dr. Okanlami has agreed to lead SSD on a permanent basis, along with this broader focus on advocacy and increased accessibility to support services and fitness activities,” said Robert D. Ernst, associate vice president of student life for health and wellness and executive director of the University Health Service. “The passion and knowledge that Dr. Okanlami brings to this space will allow us to continue building on the foundations he helped lay as SSD’s interim director.”

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said U-M Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon. “Dr. Okanlami’s work across the University of Michigan has been critical to the forward progress we as an institution have made in improving the experiences of students and others with disabilities on our campus.”

“I am excited to continue working with Dr. Okanlami as he transitions to his permanent role leading the Services for Students with Disabilities Office, the Testing Accommodation Centers, and the Adaptive Sports & Fitness program,” said Christina Kline, assistant director and ADA coordinator in U-M’s Office for Institutional Equity.

“Dr. O brings a passion and dedication to this work which has and will continue to have an impact on the University community. I look forward to helping support him and his vision for fostering an accessible and inclusive culture and community.”

— Susan Thwing contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in the July 6, 2021 edition of The University Record