Since making the U.S. national goalball team in 2010, when the men
placed fourth in the Goalball World Championships, Jenks has competed
around the world. With Team USA, he won a bronze medal in the 2014
International Blind Sports Federation’s World Goalball Championships and
took silver in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s not easy to compete and also dedicate the time it takes to earn
a Ph.D., but I’m trying to strike a balance,” he said. “Athletics gives
me opportunities, and it gives me a platform to talk about
disabilities, and that’s very important to me and to the community that
I’m a part of.”
He also sees his stature as a successful athlete as a way to encourage and advocate for youngsters with disabilities.
“When you come in and do a camp or talk to kids about a sport like
goalball, you create bonds and have fun,” Jenks said. “You don’t
necessarily think about it as advocacy or activism, but it is … For
blind and visually impaired kids, just getting out of the house for a
group activity can be a big step.”
Children and teens with disabilities all need advocates, Jenks said,
crediting his parents for filling that role for him as he grew up and
learned to advocate for himself.
That need for support, even among adults, was brought home to him in a
recent study he conducted for the Social Security Administration (SSA).
In that research, Jenks surveyed 35 blind or visually impaired people,
ages 21-64, across the U.S. who were receiving or had received some
disability benefits from SSA, seeking a better understanding of their
The result was a paper he wrote for the agency, titled “A Lack of
Access,” that detailed many of the barriers to employment that the
survey participants face.
“Blind and visually impaired people are very well educated compared
to the general population, and to those with other disabilities, but
they’re often unemployed or underemployed,” Jenks said. “There’s an
overwhelming amount of stigma that still exists about their
capabilities; every person I interviewed said they had had that
experience with employers and potential employers.”
His report recommended some changes in SSA policy — the ways in which
the agency communicates with blind and visually impaired recipients, for
example — but especially emphasized the need for outreach to vocational
rehabilitation specialists and to employers. By educating both groups on
the capabilities of blind and visually impaired people, and providing
training on up-to-date adaptive technology, most of those Jenks surveyed
believed they could improve their employment situation.
The empirical study for SSA ties into the theoretical work he is
doing for his doctoral dissertation. In both cases, he said, his hope is
to change the perception of those with disabilities.
Jenks expects to complete his dissertation in 2019 and to work in
academia, especially because he said he enjoys teaching as well as
research. Political science hasn’t traditionally emphasized the study of
disability policy, but like all social sciences, the field is becoming
more interdisciplinary, Jenks said.
“I think the lines in social science are increasingly blurred,” he
said. “We’re all fundamentally studying people and social problems and
how to fix them.
“Academics need to remember why we’re doing this work. We want to make sure our scholarship has an impact on the real world.”
Learn more about goalball
For information about how goalball is played and for news about the sport, visit the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes website.
see Jenks demonstrate his goalball throwing skills, recorded last year
in a College of Health Sciences lab on UÎ's Science, TEchnology and
Advnaced Research (STAR) Campus, click this link to the video.
by Ann Manser; photos by Loren Worthington, courtesy of U.S.
Association of Blind Athletes, and Evan Krape; video by Ashley Barnas