Paratransit drivers Terrance Lambert and Virginia Fuentes win inaugural Phil Dubois Award for Accessibility Improvement

Friday, March 11, 2022

Terrance Lambert and Virginia Fuentes may not be known to everyone at UNC Charlotte, but for those with mobility impairments who rely on them to get across our sprawling campus, they are champions for upholding the University’s commitment to accessibility.

Terrance and Virginia are both vehicle equipment operators who drive Niner Paratransit shuttles in the afternoons until midnight. At 3 p.m., they get to work catching up on email and reviewing their daily pick-up schedule. They transport students to and from their classes and campus buildings, but they often go further than their transport duties to ensure equitable access for our students.

Photo of Terrance Lambert

When the pandemic began, Terrance and Virginia were asked to deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) to departments on campus. They enthusiastically volunteered to help. And when they were asked to help the Office of Disability Services assess building entrances for accessibility, they again stepped up and accepted the responsibility.

At first, Terrance and Virginia did not know how to approach their newly assigned task. According to Virginia, assessing the accessibility of building entrances was made easier when she thought of her passengers and the mobility challenges they face navigating campus. 

“We didn’t know how to start, but when we were working, we had in our mind our passengers and the people we serve. We know their needs. We put ourselves in their situation. How are they going to be able to get inside? How can we make it easier for them?” Virginia said. 

Terrance and Virginia surveyed over 90 campus entrances and compiled a report on which door readers were in compliance with accessibility standards and which door readers were in need of repairs. They took photos of each entrance and noted issues with ramps and the height of some card readers. 

Terrance explained, “At first we didn’t know how to present the information, but we took pictures and then made a map and put the pictures on it. We described everything we did and created a spreadsheet so folks could have the information in one place, and then we did a PowerPoint.”

They presented the results of their survey to the Office of Disability Services. The Lockshop in Facilities Management will begin working through the repairs in the coming months.  

In recognition of their efforts, Terrance and Virginia received the inaugural Phil Dubois Award for Accessibility Improvement, which recognizes outstanding faculty and staff members outside the field of disability services who have “demonstrated exemplary support of or work in accessibility within Charlotte’s campus community.”

Photo of Virginia Fuentes

Both were surprised and appreciative of the recognition, but they felt most proud of how their work will help provide better access for students with disabilities. 

“The award means a lot to us. It signifies that we did a great job and someone recognized the work and appreciated it. The work we did is going to help people in the future with getting access,” Terrance said.

Virginia agreed, “We appreciate what the University does for us to show that what we do matters and what we do helps others.”

Terrance and Virginia both have over ten years of service at Charlotte. If you see them around campus, be sure to wave and thank them for their dedication to making Charlotte a safer and more equitable place.