Janice Seabrooks-Blackmore prides herself on working with — rather than around — people’s uniqueness. Ever since childhood, she has made the most of her ability to help people learn. And as executive director of the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities and professor of exceptional student education, Seabrooks-Blackmore spends her time discovering new ways to optimize accessibility and advocate for its necessity.
Thinking back to how her journey started, she remembers instinctively assisting those around her at a young age.
“I’ve always been a teacher,” says Seabrooks-Blackmore. “Growing up, we had a small back porch. I would give instruction there, recreating the lessons from school, because I was fascinated with education.”
The Jacksonville, Florida, native recalls a nephew who had struggled to learn how to read.
“All I could do was to find what would motivate him to read — for instance, reading the word ‘milk.’ He was really my first example of using alternative ways to help a person learn. When teaching him the word ‘milk,’ I would have a glass of milk beside him and ask him, ‘What is that?’ and he would say ‘milk.’ I’d then say, ‘Yes, milk,’ and show him milk in print and have him sip some milk,” she says. “He had that direct relationship with something physical that he does all the time: drinking milk. And as we read a book, with me sounding out the words, I would associate it with the milk that he drinks.”
He began to learn to read by associating a word with symbols and real objects that represented the spoken words.
“In this way, I was able to help someone who learned in a different way than children were typically taught how to read at the time,” she says.
With time, Seabrooks-Blackmore realized her talent was a lucrative career path. The U.S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act had recently passed when she started her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Florida, where she decided to major in special education. She became a teacher and then, after receiving a master’s degree in school counseling from the University of North Florida, she began working as a counselor. Earning a doctoral degree in special education from Florida State University enabled her to transition into academia.
Seabrooks-Blackmore says each job felt fulfilling in its own way, but her positions at UCF — where 4% of students are connected with Student Accessibility Services — truly put her in the place to push for change.
Her present focus is improving periods of educational transition for youth and young adults with disabilities. At the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities, Seabrooks-Blackmore leads the effort to “provide support to students, families, and institutions of higher education so that students with intellectual disabilities have opportunities for on-campus college experiences that lead to employment opportunities.” The Center was established by the 2016 Florida Postsecondary Comprehensive Transition Program (FPCTP) Act, and is responsible for managing FPCTP administration at universities across Florida.
Reflecting on what led her to this point in her profession, Seabrooks-Blackmore says access stands out as the overarching theme of her life and career.
“The uniqueness of the diverse people with whom I work is what educates me and reminds me that I have to be open when things aren’t the way I perceive them to be,” she says. “I always ask myself: what is it that I can do to communicate better, to work better, to help them better?”