This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website:

03 February, 2014

Mentors, Networking and Elevator Speeches

Jessiemarie Voigt, MPH
Former LEND Trainee, University of Arizona
Supported Employment Specialist

I spend my days traveling all corners of Louisville to meet clients in day programs and employers in busy offices and warehouses.  I help people with disabilities find and keep employment or in other words, I help quality employers find qualified employees, with disabilities.  I am a supported employment specialist.   Employment does not include job readiness programs, sheltered workshops, day program contracted work, enclave work or any setting in which only people with disabilities work.  It is designed to be in the community and matched to interests and skills.  Clients of my colleagues and I are employed at UPS WorldPort Hub, Best Buy Warehouse, Geek Squad City Headquarters, YMCA, Kentucky Science Center, Jefferson County Public Schools and many more small and mid-size businesses across the state of Kentucky.  

Working has opened endless doors for you and me, and it can do just that for our family, friends, clients, consumers and patients with disabilities.  Income, money management, spouses, friendships, fulfillment, challenge, stress, conflict, resolution, independence and respect can be tied to and gained from employment.  My goal is for employment to be attainable for my clients and for your clients.  I want employers to look for value in spite of recognizing a disability, and I want disability recognized as diversity in the workplace. 

It will not be easy to shift the paradigm.  Being an employment specialist is not easy.  I would guess that your job is not easy either, and that you too have big goals to tackle.  In my 3 1/2 month tenure as an employment specialist, I found that I need help to take on my goals. 

Today I share the advice that was offered to me from a later career professional as I began to tackle my professional goals: 

1) Mentors (a.k.a. Late Career Professionals) DO make a difference:
This can be an informal relationship.  I attended a training generously offered by one of our organization’s board members, Dr. Karl Gretz.  On a break, I voiced that I needed help in making contacts in Louisville. He has since passed along articles, invited me to a networking event, and offered advice to my concerns.  Although it was never called a mentor-mentee relationship, I thank and credit Dr. Karl Gretz of Gretz Consulting group as a mentor and the source of much of the wisdom I pass along today.  He provided tools to meet other professionals and emphasized the importance of doing just that.  

2)   Rock the 30 second introduction:
In graduate school, my eyes opened wide, incredulous, at the suggestion of sharing my elevator speech with a room of strangers.  I pondered the enjoyment my professor received in torturing me to do this and contemplated how to pinpoint myself in one minute.  Now, I finally have a solution.  I created a short and sweet, 1-3 sentence message map on my own terms, before it felt like torture.  My mentor recommended Carmine Gallo’s YouTube instruction on creating a message map and it is awesome!  

Carmine Gallo’s Elevator Speech Instruction in less than 5 minutes:
Find the link HERE

(Note: If you do end up making a message map/elevator speech, I would love to hear about it and share mine with you!)

3)   Visit places where you might meet other professionals
Your home city, town or suburb likely has networking groups that can easily be found over the Internet.  Louisville has more free networking groups than I can reasonably attend.  Find one, and GO.  If you hate it, find another.  Bumping into people and sharing your professional message with others will allow you to glean new ideas for your own work, and also give you the opportunity to share your input into others’ ideas.  You will build a professional foundation that can act as resources when needed or lead to future opportunity.

4)   You do not need the gift of gab to network.
It is not about talking; it is about asking questions and getting to know others.  As a more introverted person, I found, and still often find networking a terrifying experience.  Dr. Gretz advised me to: a) Ask questions, b) Listen MORE than you talk, and c) “Act like you’re getting to know someone as you would on a date.” 
If you are still sure your mind will go blank, or alternatively that you will monopolize the room, pre write several questions and make it your mission to get some answers.

5)   Share your new elevator speech in these settings
Now that you have made it to the event, SHARE!  When I was able to articulate my job in 1-3 sentences, people understood my job and observed my passion.  This interested them enough to ask questions and offer ideas about ways to help me in my career!  Free help from experts!  I was floored at how easy it was to get to this point.   

6)   Go to training opportunities:
Attend training opportunities when you can, and even if the material is dull or very familiar, find at least ONE TAKEAWAY.
-Is there a content expert you could talk to that would help a client you work with?
-Is there a tool you could take home and use? 
-Is there a contact you should make to advance your career into a future field?  
-Can you meet someone to carpool with (and get to know) the next day of the conference? 
-Can you share ideas with a ‘neighbor’ in the same field or research interest you had not met before?

7)   Network within your own field:
This is so important, and something I took for granted in the LEND program.  Although it is an interdisciplinary group, we all have a shared passion.  In 3.5 months as an employment specialist, I have gained so much by getting to know employment specialists serving at different agencies.  They have shared their strategies with me, recommended free resources, introduced colleagues, offered advice on tricky cases, and recommended fundraising sources and leads for employers.  I also developed a relationship with Kentucky’s supported employment guru, whom is an invaluable support in every challenge I encounter. 

If you are still skeptical that mentors, networking, and elevator speeches can help you as an early career professional, I submit to you the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  These tools have led me to meet thoughtful and committed professionals.  I have begun to think of it as my duty to get to know people in my field and other fields to better serve my clients and work toward changing the world! 

11 December, 2013

Decisively Accepting My Mission

Kenya Spear, AS, BS, MS.ED
Literacy Coach, The Milagro Center
Former LEND Trainee at Westchester Institute of Human Development

My beginnings were humble, survival; having adequate food, clothing and shelter were always an effort. After high school, obtaining higher education was not expected.  My family needed me to locate a job and contribute to my upkeep and their preservation. I was obedient, respectful, docile, even, and knew I would do what was expected. 

But I also wanted a profession, not a job. As luck would have it, a local high school had a nursing program. I applied and was accepted. In nursing school, I was dedicated and competent but family responsibilities and burdens; as well as professional training was stressful. After graduating, I changed paths and obtained positions in the corporate world.   

Financially, I was helping my family and regularly buying myself material things but professionally I was unfulfilled. My days, sitting at a desk, answering phones, move papers about, attending meetings, and such was unrewarding, and unimaginative.  Frequently, I was despondent and I pursued professional help.   
In therapy I worked hard and ultimately started learning and recognizing what was important to and special about me.  I realized I had good writing skills, I kept journals, I loved to read, had a wide-ranging record collection, an impressive art collection, I was an excellent swimmer, a decent photography and had traveled considerable.  And I had an eclectic group of friends.

I wanted to attend college. And beyond all odds, I did. I majored in psychology/sociology and took a few education courses as electives. Studying education, methods of teaching, and such inspired me. And with my miscellaneous and eclectic background and experiences, I though I had the qualities to become an excellent teacher.  

I initially taught Social Studies, Common Branches, grades 1-6, which I loved. I was not certified and had no influence as to what and where I would teach. Therefore, I was transferred as needed, and found myself teaching Social Studies in Junior High and High School.  But in a teacher’s newsletter I saw a temporary, middle of the school year, teaching position in an elementary school in a low performing district.

I applied, was interviewed and hired to teach a third grade class. Unbeknown, to me the class was a Special Education class. (I later learned no qualified special education teacher applied for the job and in desperation, I was hired.) The class consisted of 10 boys and 2 girls, who were American Blacks, Hispanic and African. At least two were foster children, three lived with extended family members, almost all presented with health issues; asthma, allergies, all of the students were language delayed, none were reading on grade level and several could not read at all.  

For the first two weeks or so, teaching was touch and go. The students were problematic, the workload grueling, and I had much to learn.  I did not know what an IEP, Individual Education Plan was, and nothing, no course I took in college, had adequately prepared me for the disrupted behavior, running in the hallways and classroom, fighting and lying I encountered.   But, I was not put off! An avid reader and life learner, I started reading books about Pat Mora, Tom Feelings, Zora Neale Hurston, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Langston Hughes to the students.

I wanted the students to see themselves, to start learning about their cultural and hopefully develop an interest in reading and language. From my collection I brought in records, jazz, folk music, and such, to help enhance listening skills. And afterwards, I lead discussions, encouraged the students to share their feelings and ideas about what they had heard.

With student assisted relevant bulletin boards, about their neighborhoods, families, friends and playgrounds were created. I included the student’s words, names, ages and photos. Along the way, I taught the students, boys included, how to crochet.  A math lesson became the opportunity to measure flour, salt, and sugar in order to bake cookies. Worry free Journal writing, students were encouraged to write, and they were not penalized for spelling and such, was a daily activity.

Slowly, the students started to trust me and I knew they knew that I respected them. I listened, encouraged, and I did not maligned them. Remarkable, I witnessed a slight decrease in some disrupted behaviors. Students lined up when I asked them to and pushing and shoving dwindled. I rewarded, every progress, with stickers, certificates of merits and encouraging, motivating words and smiles.

My AP, Assistant Principal, gave inspiring suggestions when he visited my classroom. The Principal visited and took notes. After about two months, I was asked to attend a meeting with the Principal and Assistant Principal.  Needless, to say I was terrified.  I wondered what had I done wrong, incorrect, poorly.
But in the meeting, I was stunned to learn that apparently I had done things and was doing things well. And I was offered the opportunity to participate in a special program.  It turned out The District had established a tuition free program to train teachers who were willing to commit to teaching special education.   Principal and Assistant Principal wanted to know if I would participate.  The answer was a firm yes!!!   

And so, with guidance, encouragement, and support, I enrolled in a Master’s Program in Special Education.
I completed the program, became state certified and started teaching special education students.  And I embraced my profession and became clear about my goals and purpose in life.

Gathering and hording things are not important aims for me. Self-improvement, self-awareness and self-control are my primary objectives.  Teaching, communicating, sharing and helping people, persons, especial children, notable children who have and are confronting challenging’s are important to me and my purposes in life. 

But, sometimes, I become despondent, angry even when I recall the emotional, physical, social and educational difficulties, disadvantages and drawbacks that seemed to have been discarded on me, my life and living!  But then I remember the words of Mark Twain “The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer somebody else up.” And I do just that!!!!

01 November, 2013

7 Reasons You Are Absolutely Required to Educate Policymakers

Rachel Patterson, MPA
AUCD Policy Analyst

You're tired of hearing it.
Washington is "broken". 
Hyper-partisanship. Ugh
We're tired of writing it.

Cory from Boy Meets World waves his arms and screams

But this means it's even more important to get involved.

Here's 7 reasons why:

1. You know disability issues.
You're in training programs, you research and teach about disability issues, you work with people with disabilities, you have disabilities yourselves. You know what's going on.

Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory says

Only you can tell this story.
Kurt tells Rachel
You know what’s working and what’s not working.
Barney on How I Met Your Mother Says

2. They want to hear from you.
Members of Congress care deeply about their constituents. They want to know what’s going on in their states and districts and it’s your job to tell them. Plus, they want to get re-elected.
Call Me Maybe
Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

If anyone tells you that Congress only listens to lobbyists and other powerful influences… well….
Vice President Joe Biden says,

3. AUCD is here to help.
Stylist on the Hunger Games  says

4. It's easy!
Set up meeting, send an email, tweet – anything! AUCD’s Action Center links you directly to your members’ phone number, email, and social media. And, as we covered in point #2, they want to hear from you.
Way easier than this.
Haymitch Abernathy tells Katniss
More like this. 
Ron Swanson says

5. Then you get to hold them accountable for what they told you.
Barney says
And even build a relationship where they call you when they have disability questions.
Man looks incredulous and asks

6. You might just change things.
Kurt's Dad on Glee says

And feel awesome…
Robin on How I Met Your Mother does a victory dance

We'll be so proud
Tim Gunn, from Project Runway, says

7. Even if you disagree with your current representatives you should still meet with them, learn about the issues, and educate your neighbors. Then vote for someone else.
President Bartlett says

And then next time someone wants to know about policy, you can be all:

Blane tells Kurt

Convinced? TAKE ACTION!

07 October, 2013

A Parent's Voice

Shannon M. Haworth, MA, QMHP
Behavior Analyst
Virginia LEND graduate 2013

Recently graduating from Virginia-LEND and graduate school does technically make me an early career professional.  I feel more of a “career changer” due to life changing events. I am now a Behavior Analyst with my Masters in Applied Behavior Analysis, but in a former life I was an IT Project manager with a PMP certification.  I recently took my examination to be Board Certified (hoping that I passed!). I am now an early career professional because I wanted to serve families of children with developmental disabilities. My own child has autism and has changed my path.

As a “parent /professional” I have a unique perspective on how to serve families. I feel I can treat maladaptive behaviors of children with autism as a professional, but also understand the parents’ perspective.
My discipline during my time in Virginia-LEND was “Family Trainee.”  I was the parent voice to young professionals in many disciplines. That gave me an opportunity to influence how they perceive families and how they care for them. I would like to continue to be that voice for professionals.

As a professional it is hard when I hear conversations blaming parents or not understanding why they did not implement a treatment at home, or missed an appointment.   Every family is different. Think of families driving on a long road. We are all on the road but going at different speeds. Some parents want to follow through on commitments but are entirely overwhelmed and have not dealt with their grief. Other parents have reached a stage where they are on cruise control and can handle more, and get things done. 

I urge professionals to try to see the parent’s perspective, and meet them where they are. As a Behavior Analyst I often try to shape behavior. You do that by reinforcing successive approximations to the desired behavior.  Reinforce parents for what they are doing right, and encourage them to do the things you feel they need to do at home for their child. For example, if a family has certain activities they need to complete at home for OT and they don’t, encourage them and make the task smaller if possible.

Also, professionals should realize they have stereotypes and to not be ashamed of them. Stereotypes are a way of telling us we need more information and we are ignorant on some level. As professionals we need to be culturally competent and treat all types of people. We need to find commonalities and learn to get past any preconceived notions about families or groups.

Lastly, family centered care is essential. Please include families in the treatment of their child, and honor the “parent’s truth.”  Parents may believe that their child has a certain diagnosis, or is not getting all the services they need. You may feel that their point of view is incorrect, but have the conversation anyway.  Treating a child means treating the whole family.

I hope that I can continue to help other professionals who work with children to empathize with families and build relationships with them. That is what makes a professional not just good, but exceptional!

03 September, 2013

You Went to India? In July?

Emily Johnson, MA
Research and Training Coordinator
Global Autism Project

There is nothing that fully prepares you for leading a team of professionals into the unknown. There is especially nothing that fully prepares you for leading a team of professionals into the unknown in India. In July. (Everyone I know whose from India says, “You went to India? In July??”) Yet, that’s where I found myself this summer. A few short months after I graduated from the LEND program at Cincinnati Children's Hospital/University of Cincinnati, I left my home and flew halfway around the world to Jakarta, Indonesia, to start my new job.

When I finished this past year of graduate school, I accepted a year-long position as the Research and Training Coordinator for a non-governmental organization called the Global Autism Project. My job entails a lot of things, but one of the most exciting is being a team leader for volunteer teams of professionals traveling to our partner sites to provide training in evidence-based practices for autism spectrum disorder. The Global Autism Project has partner sites in India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Peru, so this summer I did a marathon 6 weeks at the Indonesia site followed by the India site. I led two teams of volunteers for 2 weeks each, helping them to provide training to professionals working with kids with autism.

Like I said, there is nothing that fully prepares you to do this kind of work. But thank goodness I had something that mostly prepared me to do this—my LEND training. LEND taught me a lot of things, but the skill that I became most grateful for this summer was the ability to really listen. In LEND, I spent a lot of time learning how to really listen to families. I would think I knew what they needed, but then realized it wasn’t my job to decide what they needed—it was my job to listen to what they needed. So I listened. And then I listened some more. And then I kept listening until I really heard what they needed me to hear.

When working in other countries, this is by far the most important skill. Many people approach work in other countries with a very helper-oriented mindset. We genuinely want to help, and we want to do it by giving what we have, be it supplies, or knowledge, or other things. But in my 5 or so years of doing international work, I’ve learned that sometimes what we give isn’t always what the community needs. Just like with family-centered care, we can only learn what they really need by listening. So I listened a lot, and I taught my teams how to listen. I used the leadership skills I learned in LEND to bring a group of people together to listen to our international partners, and we shaped our training based on the needs of the center. In Indonesia we focused on basics of ABA data collection, and in India we focused on contingency-based classroom management skills. Each partner site is unique in what they need, so we listen first, and THEN provide the training that they ask for.

When I left LEND, I was surprised by how quickly my newly-formed leadership skills catapulted me into so many opportunities. I took a position as a committee chair in my state professional organization, I got offered to write a textbook chapter, and then I took this position at the Global Autism Project. But I don’t think I realized how much LEND had taught me until I was halfway around the world, leading a team of people who were looking to me for directions, and trying not to screw anything up. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had so many inner resources instilled in me as a LEND graduate, that I wasn’t going to screw anything up (nothing that couldn’t be fixed, anyway). Traveling can be really hard on people—traveling AND working AND leading people can be even harder (in case you really wanted to test your LEND skills, you could always try to lead a multidisciplinary team in a country with an average temperature of 100 F and no air conditioning.) They were successful trips. We had hard days, but they were still successful. We accomplished a lot, but I also discovered, at the end of it all, that success isn’t always about accomplishment. Success is listening, success is being a good leader, success is having people trust you enough to invite you back into their country for the next time. Based on what I got from LEND, and the kind of leader I am, I realized I’ll always be successful, even when I don’t succeed. 

01 August, 2013

Power of a Skill: Self-Advocacy

Emily Ladau
AUCD Projects Intern

As a recent recipient of my B.A. in English from Adelphi University in Long Island, New York, I am quite new to the community of early career professionals.  Yet, as an intern at AUCD, I realize every day the power of a skill I have been developing practically since I first learned to talk: self-advocacy.  As a young woman with a physical disability, I must constantly advocate on my own behalf.  In the disability community, self-advocacy is considered one of the most valuable skills necessary to achieve your goals. And while it has always been especially crucial for people with disabilities to master this, I believe that learning to advocate for yourself is a valuable tool that can and should be used by all emerging young professionals.  I have found that the same skill set I have developed to advocate for my rights as a person with a disability in my personal life also happens to benefit me professionally.  The ability to self-advocate can serve you well both inside and outside the workplace as you move forward in your career. 

The key to being a successful self-advocate is to develop your sense of self-confidence and self-worth.  This may sound like advice from your middle school guidance counselor, but it’s true!  Being confident and sure of your abilities will help you convey to others what you are capable of doing.  I used to find myself leaning towards making self-deprecating comments so as not to come across as conceited or pretentious, but I’ve come to realize that as a young person pursuing a career, it is not only acceptable, but also essential to learn how to sell yourself by sharing your major accomplishments.  In my case, doing this allows me to showcase my skill sets and passions to potential employers when networking.  Modesty has its place, but in my experience, the only way to garner any notice when making new connections is to highlight your abilities, interests, and achievements.

Furthermore, once you are employed – even if it is temporary employment, such as an internship – and begin to establish yourself in your career path, having the confidence to advocate for yourself and note your achievements can open many doors for advancement.  Granted, I have learned from many role model self-advocates in the disability community that being a great self-advocate most certainly did not lead any of them straight to a position as a president or director of an organization.  Therefore, though I have big goals, I understand that making progress in my career progress requires an incremental approach. 

As an intern at AUCD, I have advocated for myself by speaking up in meetings, telling my supervisors that I can take on many projects, and demonstrating that I have new ideas to bring to the table.  This has made for a rewarding internship experience, because I feel that when you truly believe in yourself, it shows, and others will come to believe in your abilities as well.  For instance, I take pride in the writing and communication skills I gained by working as a writing tutor and majoring in English.  I have thus made it a point to speak up specifically about these skills, which has provided me with chances to work on many great projects.  That being said, a good self-advocate always delivers on their promises.  If you advertise that you have a particular skill or ability and are subsequently assigned tasks that require these skills, make sure your final product is one you’re proud of sharing!

Of course, there is a flip side to self-advocacy.  While advocating for what you can do is important, it is equally imperative to know how to advocate for yourself when you need help.  I mean this in two ways.  First, should you have any kind of disability that necessitates accommodations, it is crucial to speak up for yourself to receive those accommodations in the workplace.  The need for proper accommodations should never be swept under the rug, because getting help is a huge part of achieving career success.  Even if you do not identify as having a disability, be willing to advocate for yourself if you need help in the workplace!  Asking for assistance when you truly need it is respectable and acceptable regardless of ability!

The second facet of asking for help is advocating for your needs by requesting to be taught a new skill.  I often do this in order to capitalize on a project as a learning opportunity.  This does not mean I’m less self-confident by admitting that I do not know something, but rather it shows that I am honest and willing to engage in new things.  I’ve been taught that this type of self-advocacy is mutually beneficial: I gain knowledge that I can use to accomplish future goals, but I also get to use this new knowledge to complete more assignments for my job.  One such example of this occurred when one of my coworkers asked me to update information on a website publishing program.  Having never used it before, I spoke up and explained that although I was unfamiliar with the system, I wanted to learn so I could help.  Now, I have an understanding of how to use it and I can take part in website related projects.  In this way, self-advocacy can create career stepping-stones, allowing you to expand your skill sets and build up your resume.

Above all else, take pride in yourself, and embrace chances to be a self-advocate.  You never know when advocating for yourself may lead you to an incredible opportunity.  Had it not been for the amazing people in the disability community who have taught me the value of self-advocacy in all aspects of life, and those who have modeled how to be an effective self-advocate (thanks, Mom!), I never would have reached where I am today with a budding career in disability rights activism.  I’m incredibly grateful to have spent my summer advocating not just for myself, but also for the disability community that I’m so proud to be a part of.  Whether you are also part of the disability community, or you are a supportive ally working to change the lives of people with disabilities, self-advocacy is truly a gateway to limitless career opportunities.

01 July, 2013

Sharing Her Story: A Virtual Trainee Reflects back on a Year with AUCD

Stephanie Weber, PsyD
AUCD Virtual Trainee 2012-2013

Serving as the 2012-2013 AUCD Virtual Trainee has been an amazing experience and I thank you deeply for this opportunity and the support to make the year so successful. This position is very valuable to the professional development of not only the Virtual Trainee but other Trainees who see the work of the VT and know the AUCD Network is a welcoming place to share ideas and build skills for leadership in the field of developmental disabilities.

There were so many highlights from this experience that it is hard to touch on only a few. In our LEND we have a heavy focus on the MCH Leadership Competencies, so I have framed my experience through that lens; when I reflect on my experiences as Virtual Trainee in terms of the MCH Competencies, I have definitely improved my skills in all 12 areas! In the area of Self, I have learned a great deal about the AUCD Network and increased my MCH Knowledge Base. It was wonderful to learn more about the Network connections directly from AUCD Staff when I visited the office in August, which set the foundation for projects throughout the year. My participation on the “AUCD and Me” webinar in the fall was beneficial to learn more about the Network and how to conduct a webinar! Trainees approached me at the Annual Conference and the Disability Policy Seminar to comment on how much that webinar helped frame up their understanding of the large Network of AUCD. Additionally, I was grateful to participate in the Board Meeting at the Annual Conference to gain a better understanding of the outstanding work being done in the committees and across the Centers. By organizing discussion posts for the AUCD and MCH Trainee Listserves, Facebook page, and Twitter, I was able to connect Trainees by sharing knowledge and resources used in Centers all over the country. Trainees seemed to find a great deal of value in learning from each other and having their questions answered through these social media outlets.

In the MCH area of Others, I have found so many opportunities to improve my skills in Communication by participating as the VT. Prior to the Annual Conference, I created a brief survey asking Trainees to share the areas of their work for which they feel most passionate. There was an overwhelming response and Trainees showed their diversity in their responses. They were excited to see the finished product, a “word cloud” of the responses, at the conference. In addition, with the support of AUCD Staff Rebecca and Crystal, I was able to lead a Trainee Networking Event which was hugely successful. Trainees provided feedback that they would have liked it to last even longer! The Trainee Liaisons also provided an exceptional opportunity to improve communication skills through email and conference calls. This was the first year for holding quarterly conference calls and they were very well received by TLs. Through these calls, TLs provided their feedback and requested to hold a Trainee-led webinar, which was carried out in March. With assistance from Dr. Tamar Heller, two Trainees were able to participate on a webinar offering information on international disability work. This provided a glimpse of the Trainee’s leadership skills that others may have never received without the work and planning of the VT with the TLs.

At year’s end, the vast majority of TL’s talked excitedly about wanting to remain connected with the AUCD network and each other, working as young professionals to support one another and incoming trainees while keeping their connection to the AUCD Network. Helping this next generation of trainees grow their awareness and connection to the Network is something I’m especially proud of during my tenure!  I was very fortunate this year to be able to work closely with Jody Pirtle, the new Board Trainee, brainstorming new ways to get and keep trainees excited about being a part of the incredible AUCD network. Having an experienced mentor/former VT to work with allowed me to not spin my wheels and instead be more efficient by learning from and building on her experience. Maintaining continuity from year to year is difficult with a typical one year trainee schedule, so this was extremely valuable to me. To have the trainee and young professional network recognized with a seat on the Board has also made a very positive difference in how trainees are recognized within the network, and trainees and TLs on calls and at conferences and events both made comments about and seemed to embrace that recognition by working harder to be strong AUCD members and future Network leaders.
Policy and Advocacy has been an area of the Wider Community Competencies that has made a lasting impression of my professional development directly because of activities from this year as VT. I had a front row seat to the excitement of the 2012 Presidential Election by being an Ohio citizen, and this made the National Forum on Disability Issues in Columbus, Ohio, an extremely exciting experience. I was grateful to attend and relay information on the presented issues back to the Trainee network. Additionally, at the AUCD Conference, given the timing of the vote on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), I led a large group of Trainees to Capitol Hill to educate legislators on the issue. What an experience! This was an impromptu trip based overwhelming number of Trainees who indicated they wanted to do whatever they could to support ratification of CRPD. This was an amazing opportunity to put our leadership skills to work! It also provided many Trainees, including myself, the confidence to meet with legislators at Hill Day at the Disability Policy Seminar. This was yet another wonderful week of experiences to help shape my passion for advocacy and knowledge of the issues and ways to best influence policy development.

Overall, I could have never imagined I would have gained so much in terms of my leadership skills in just under one year. I look forward to working with the newly named VT on understanding the role so he/she can hit the ground running for 2013-2014. Again, I am grateful to the AUCD Board and Staff for the continued support and recognition of the importance of the VT position, both at the individual and Network level. Thank you!