18:28 PM

Zachary Miller won the 2024 Dick Thornburgh Forum Disability Service Award


This story originally appeared in Pittwire (2/15/24). Reposted with permission. Story by Nora Smith, Photography by Aimee Obidzinski. 

Zachary Miller, a junior studying bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, is the recipient of the 2024 Dick Thornburgh Forum Disability Service Award. The annual prize is granted to a student from any Pitt campus whose service has made a difference in the lives of adults and children with disabilities.

Miller was recognized for founding the Spreading Neurodiversity Acceptance Project (SNAP), a Pitt organization that organizes community events with the goal of fostering equal opportunities and inclusivity for all. He has also partnered with Pitt’s Regulation of Emotion in Autistic Adults, Children, and Teens Program and Geriatric Neuroimaging Psychiatry Lab to study the development of new communication methods to enhance connections among neurodivergent and neurotypical people.

Beyond SNAP, Miller serves as a team lead with the nonprofit PALS Programs, where he helps create immersive experiences for young adults with Down syndrome. The David C. Frederick Honors College student, who is also pursuing Pitt’s professional MS in medical product engineering, has also worked closely with UPMC to create a volunteering disability ambassador program that works to ensure that the needs and accommodations of people with disabilities are being met during their hospital stay.

“The most rewarding aspect of my involvement is contributing to such an incredible community,” Miller said. “Neurodivergent individuals offer unique perspectives often overlooked by the average neurotypical person. Learning from them and witnessing their genuine joy during our activities brings immense fulfillment. My goal is to bring more smiles to the world, enriching both my understanding and theirs.”

The $5,000 award is associated with the annual Thornburgh Family Lecture in Disability Law and Policy, endowed by the late Gov. Dick Thornburgh and his wife, with the proceeds of the Henry B. Betts Award, presented to them in 2003. The series has also been aided with grants and other support from the Office of the Chancellor, the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, the School of Law, the Office of Disability Resources and Services and the Frederick Honors College.