Andrew Jacobson

“You can’t compare students from back in my day to now,” says RIT/NTID’s 2015 Distinguished Alumnus David J. Nelson. “They are a different generation growing up with different systems around them. However it’s important to emphasize that they, too, have a responsibility in the workplace regarding the perception they give their coworkers. Come in early. Leave late. People will recognize that you are willing to work and do more than what you were hired to do. Work hard to sell yourself.”

It’s this kind of thinking that makes Nelson, a senior community outreach specialist in Government Affairs at the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), an outstanding example of the dedicated RIT/NTID alumni who achieve great things and give back.

Nelson graduated from RIT/NTID in 1981 and 1985 with degrees in Computer Systems Programming. He was active as part of NTID’s Student Congress and worked nationally to establish a network of student leaders from NTID, Gallaudet and CSUN.

Today, Nelson is responsible for providing accessibility information, managing outreach activities by Amtrak to the disability community and overseeing internal projects to ensure accessible compliance. He is an active member of the National Association of the Deaf, and has received the organization’s Frederick C. Schreiber Distinguished Service Award, and represents NAD on issues concerning telecommunication and transportation.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I read newspapers in print – not just online,” he says. “We need to understand the full story and be aware of all that is happening, not just the summary. I tell students to read the business section and learn what is changing, especially in the careers you are training for. You can’t ignore the writing on the wall.” 

Nelson believes that, both in our culture and in the workplace, we must be prepared for what comes next. 

“Over the years, I’ve learned that being open to change and growth in the workplace and life is crucial – we must be flexible and learn to adapt,” he says. “Many of us never dreamed or even considered the super high speed at which technological and cultural changes have reshaped American life and made us more global citizens. It’s hard to imagine what the future might hold when so many perceived limits have given way.

“I am trying with all my energy to make places and services accessible not only to people with disabilities, but to everyone,” he says. “We may take things for granted in our daily lives as we go about our usual routines—but much of it is possible because there are people working towards making everything accessible.”