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White House honors Hoby Wedler as a “Champion of Change”

Posted 05-07-12 at 3:43 PM

Henry “Hoby” Wedler, a graduate student at the University of California, Davis, and host of Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Tasting in the Dark experience, was one of 14 individuals honored today at the White House as Champions of Change for leading the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for people with disabilities.

“STEM is vital to America’s future in education and employment, so equal access for people with disabilities is imperative, as they can contribute to and benefit from STEM,” said Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. “The leaders we’ve selected as Champions of Change are proving that when the playing field is level, people with disabilities can excel in STEM, develop new products, create scientific inventions, open successful businesses, and contribute equally to the economic and educational future of our country.”

The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of Champions, ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities. Hoby was nominated by Douglas Sprei of Learning Ally, a nonprofit that produces accessible audio textbooks for blind and learning disabled students.

Hoby, who is blind, was inspired by programs offered by the National Federation of the Blind in high school, and with encouragement from professors, colleagues and others, he gained the confidence to challenge and refute the mistaken belief that STEM fields are too visual and, therefore, impractical for blind people. He currently is working towards his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at UC Davis.

Hoby also founded and teaches at an annual chemistry camp near Napa for blind and low-vision high school students. Chemistry Camp demonstrates to the students, by example and through practice, that their lack of eyesight should not hold them back from pursuing their dreams.

In between his studies and other projects, Hoby travels to the winery to host the monthly Tasting in the Dark, a blind tasting experience that he helped establish with our winemaking team last summer.

“Francis Ford Coppola Winery has been extremely fortunate to work with someone as talented as Henry Wedler to help develop Tasting in the Dark,” said Corey Beck, Director of Winemaking and General Manager.  “Not only has Henry been a inspiration to our guests and the employees of the winery but he has one of the best palates I've ever been around when it comes to wine tasting.”