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:

13 December, 2010

Prove Yourself Wrong

Several recent postings speak of the critical importance of a mentor in one’s career. Dr. Arnold Capute, one of the fathers of developmental pediatrics, filled that role for me. He was known for memorable phrases or Capute-isms. Among the most important was one of Arnold’s frequently heard admonitions: “Don’t prove yourself right, prove yourself wrong.” Of course, he was referring to the all too human tendency to land on an idea or conclusion, then recognize only supporting evidence while ignoring refuting evidence. This is a dangerous course whether your activities are in clinical, research, administrative or policy arenas. “Your first guess is your best guess” may be good advice on a multiple choice exam, but it’s very poor advice in a health or human service career.

Many years ago, before the advent of neonatal hearing screening, I was following an infant girl with cerebral palsy. At about 3 months of age she had normal auditory brainstem response testing by an expert audiology team, so I was surprised when at age 8 months the mother and grandmother mentioned they were concerned that the infant was not hearing normally. I reassured them about the normal ABR. Six months later they returned and still had concerns about their child’s hearing. Again I reassured them, but after discussion we decided to repeat the audiometry in the next few months. Unexpectedly, to me, the repeat audiometry showed moderate to severe bilateral hearing loss. The child received hearing aids and other appropriate interventions, but had obviously lost time during a sensitive period for learning language. I had locked in on the earlier normal testing and had discounted the family’s worries about hearing – this despite the fact that I frequently spoke to trainees about evaluation of children with hearing loss and the critical importance of listening to parents’ concerns about hearing loss. I didn’t think to “prove myself wrong.”

Last month I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation on disability and employment by Dr. Bob Nicholas of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce development at Rutgers. He spoke about “Demand-Side” approaches to expanding employment for jobseekers with disabilities. We often think of disability employment as a “supply-side” problem. We have a huge supply of individuals interested in work but often without identifiable job matches. Our solutions are supported- and customized-employment strategies that are effective but often difficult to bring to scale. To increase employment outcomes for people with disabilities remains one of our field’s greatest challenges. Bob highlighted the “demand-side.” He cited the business case for hiring people with disabilities including better employee reliability and retention rates, the ability to fine tune their products to customers with disabilities and being prepared to accommodate and retain good employees who acquire a disability. He noted many national companies that are leading the way including Walgreens’ corporate goal of having 30% of their employees in distribution centers nationwide being people with disabilities. Walgreens has exceeded this goal in their southeast distribution center located in Anderson, SC and is working with other businesses to help them achieve similar outcomes. Our supply-side approaches remain necessary; we don’t need to prove ourselves wrong here, but, to bring positive employment outcomes to scale, we also need to work with businesses and our state economic development people to foster demand-side solutions.

Finally, with the ever-changing political landscape nationally, in our states and locally, we have an ongoing opportunity to “prove ourselves wrong.” New opportunities, unexpected partners and inevitable challenges will offer us the chance to take a fresh look, refine or adapt our arguments and approaches, while maintaining our commitment to work with and for people with disabilities.

My best wishes for the holidays and a thoughtful, productive 2011,

Fred Palmer

22 November, 2010

Some Simple Leadership Tips From a Young Professional

Earlier in the month it was an honor to accept the AUCD Young Professional award. Not only was it humbling to be recognized by AUCD, a network with such phenomenal leadership in the disability field, it was also a great to be recognized by my colleagues at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI). As I look back on my relatively short time at ICI, it is clear to me that I could not have gotten to where I am today without a lot of support, encouragement, and teamwork from those around me. Two themes come to mind when I think about necessities for me to do my work, hopefully they can be useful for other young professionals in the AUCD network.

Find strong mentors– There is always so much going on in the disability field, nationally and locally. It is difficult to make sense of the complexity and rarely does any one person understand the entire picture. As a young professional in the field, the huge systems and movements we work within can be intimidating, which is why it is vital that we connect with proven leaders that can help guide us. For me, it’s been useful to link with mentors that can help me develop a broader understanding of the issues and challenges the field faces. It is also important to me that mentors be able to help me understand how I can fit into this movement and develop a personal vision to best move the field forward.

Develop strong partnerships– Much of my work includes training, research, and technical assistance with human service organizations, community coalitions, or governmental agencies. Since I do not work in a lab, it is vital that I have access to these organizations and that they have access to me. For this to happen, I must develop strong partnerships and quality relationships with community members pursuing similar works. For me, developing these partnerships does not happen overnight, it takes time and they are planned. Partnerships are best when they are reciprocal, so it important to be able to contribute, be it skills, ideas, or anything else that can be useful. For partnerships to be successful you must be willing to invest and groom them.

These simple ideas are the foundation of much of my work at ICI. Without guidance and help from others who’ve navigated similar territory, I would find myself easily lost and overwhelmed in the enormous systems I work in. I would also find it impossible to complete the many community-heavy responsibilities without the connections locally and nationally. As you carve your career out consider these ideas to help connect with others leading the way in your communities.

Derek Nord, PhD

15 October, 2010

Why I Think It Is Important To Have Self-Advocates Be LEND Trainees

This weeks post was written by Tia Nelis, Self Advocate and LEND Trainee at the University of Illinois, Institute on Disability and Human Development.
Tia Nelis

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopment and Related Disabilities (LEND) programs provide long-term, graduate level interdisciplinary training as well as interdisciplinary services and care. The purpose of the LEND training program is to improve the health of infants, children, and adolescents with disabilities. They accomplish this by preparing trainees from diverse professional disciplines to assume leadership roles in their respective fields and by insuring high levels of interdisciplinary clinical competence.
I became involved with LEND in the fall of 2010 as the first Self-Advocate LEND trainee. I think it is important for self-advocates to have other leadership opportunities. By being a part of Lend we have a chance to experience leadership in a new way. By learning about the medical part of disability were you would not get a chance to learn about from any other leadership training. And chance to see how other health professionals interact with people with disabilities. LEND also gives the other trainees a chance to learn from the point of a view of a person with a disability. A lot of what people know about disabilities comes from books, rather than first-hand experiences with people with disabilities. I think it is important for self-advocates to be involved in LEND to help provide the perspective of people with disabilities. This way self-advocates and students can learn together. Not only can self-advocates be teachers, but they can also learn from the other trainees and presenters. Self-advocates can learn a lot from the clinical experiences in the LEND program. While self-advocates may have significant knowledge of policy, leadership, and how to advocate for issues that may come up in legislation, we don’t have as much experience in the clinical setting. LEND provides an opportunity to see this side of disability.
LEND trainees also benefit through working together as a team on various projects. For example, I led a Leadership Academy for self-advocates, and other LEND trainees helped during the training, taking notes and pictures for me that I could use later for my final report. In return, as a part of another trainee’s project, I helped make a video for a disability march that will be coming up soon. Also, another family member trainee did a march for her sons and I was not able to go, but I made a donation to the cause. I have enjoyed this experience of working together with other LEND trainees and the issues that they care about.
I hope other LEND programs will give self-advocates an opportunity to be a LEND trainee. Both groups learn from each other and are able to share their experiences with each other. LEND trainees are able to take what we learned, work together, and use that knowledge in the community to be more influential in changing policy and legislation. This will help make a better world for people with disabilities.

15 September, 2010

Advice From a UCEDD Director

When I joined the Iowa UCEDD 31 years ago this very month, I certainly never dreamed that I would be the first UCEDD director to be contributing to this wonderful blog. And that’s not only because blogs hadn’t been invented back then! I simply never would have imagined that I would have the chance to direct the Iowa UCEDD. So how on earth did that happen and what have I learned that might be useful to early career professionals?

Mentors open doors
I got the chance to become the director of the Iowa UCEDD because I was fortunate to be mentored by the person who handed me the baton, Alfred Healy, MD--an outstanding clinician and leader. Equally important, the AUCD family (and I do mean, family) gave me opportunities to know and learn from other inspiring leaders who helped me better understand and embrace our common network vision of a life in the community for everyone. The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be shy about finding mentors. Know also that there really can be a reciprocal benefit to these relationships. You are giving as much as you receive when you ask someone to share what he or she has learned and when you then let that learning shape the influence you will have on the individuals and systems you touch.

When opportunity knocks
Margaret Mead was right when she said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." That is why MCHB has been so wise for decades in investing in individuals like those of you who are reading this blog right now. If you take advantage of the all opportunities your training presents, you will return incredible dividends.

Interdisciplinary collaboration
You all understand the multiplier effect of being trained in an interdisciplinary manner. You know that improving clinical outcomes for individuals and families takes a village of disciplines working together. But there is a related truth that pertains to other types of life outcomes like living in the community and having a competitive job. These types of outcomes require systems and agencies to work together. No matter what your discipline, take every opportunity to learn about multiple systems (e.g. education, human services, public health, and employment). Silos simply do not lead to the full community participation of people with disabilities.

Shared leadership
A corollary of this truth is that shared leadership is essential to systems improvement. I confess this is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier in my career. When I was a young professional, I was too concerned about demonstrating the value of my own individual contributions. When I was an early UCEDD director, I was too concerned about demonstrating the value of my program’s contributions. I hope I have learned that partnerships are the only way that truly significant outcomes can be achieved.

I’d like to close these musings by thanking each of you for choosing the career path you have chosen. The field needs you as do the individuals whose quality of life you will enhance and the service systems you will improve.

Best wishes!

12 September, 2010

Let’s Talk about Disability & Employment

October is known as Disability Employment Awareness Month. We all know that accepting differences is the basic fiber that binds us together as a strong community. I hope my message will inspire you to do what’s right, to stand up and embrace the challenge that is before you, and provide leadership within your programs to recruit and retain the most qualified applicants and employees from diverse backgrounds. Only through my actions and the actions of others will lead to the expectations of numerous opportunities for full participation of citizens, regardless of the diverse abilities or ethnicities within the workplace.

I am a Filipino American with cerebral palsy, commonly known CP. My disability normally occurs at birth when there are complications and part of the brain dies due to lack of oxygen. My motor skills are affected and I have a very mild case of CP. There are various levels of severity when it comes to cerebral palsy. Yes, indeed, I am very fortunate and very appreciative to be communicating and connecting with you at this very moment.

I did something significant; do you know what it is? It’s something very simple, but it appears to be a great hurdle faced by employers and employees and it’s probably the greatest obstacle that prevents many of our workplaces from reaching their fullest potential. Any clue what I am referencing? I was willing to disclose both my ethnicity and disability. The latter is especially significant. Why is this significant in today’s modern workplace? If employees are willing to disclose their disabilities, supervisors and managers can offer reasonable accommodations and other appropriate supports when they ask for them. The employees will feel safe and valued if they are willing to share information as sensitive as that. As all of you further your young careers, you are striving to have and maintain an environment that treats all of your colleagues and peers with respect and dignity at all times. There is strength in diversity and the programs that embrace this value will truly be inclusive of all employees, regardless of their cultural backgrounds and experiences.

Now, ladies and gentleman, what people with disabilities are facing with employment are problems that have been longstanding, researched, noted in textbooks, and yet, we have progressed very little in employing what the American society deemed as our most vulnerable population. In order to begin understanding the employment challenges and difficulties faced by individuals with disabilities, one must know his or her community. For example, let’s take our Nation’s capitol, the District of Columbia, where I currently reside. I am also the Executive Director for the District of Columbia’s Developmental Disabilities Council. The DD Council is a federally funded program charged with identifying the most pressing needs of people with developmental disabilities in the District of Columbia. There are approximately 116,000 residents with disabilities serving and living in the community – roughly 20% of the population of the District of Columbia. Based on the 2007 American Community Survey conducted by Cornell University, the unemployment rate of working-age District residents with disabilities between ages 21 and 64 is sixty-seven percent (67%). The percentage of residents with disabilities who are actively seeking work but are not currently working is approximately eleven percent (11%). In addition, twenty-eight percent (28%) of the working-age residents with disabilities attain a high school diploma or the equivalent – that is approximately 32,500 individuals with disabilities in the District. As a result, the poverty rate among this population is staggering at thirty-eight percent (38%) or approximately 44,000 District residents with disabilities living at or below the poverty line.

As a person with a physical disability growing up in a suburban area of Virginia and participating in community activities, I was often isolated, tolerated, and my peers often passed judgment based on my differences. Keeping in mind, I was always mainstreamed and trying to fit in with all the able-bodied children – a battle that I found myself constantly on the losing end as an adolescent.

Now apply that same stigma to adulthood and the pressure is magnified ten-fold because “people like me” are viewed as the anomaly instead of the norm. Case in point, less than two percent of federal employees have been identified as people with disabilities. Granted, I do believe that the percentage of federal employees with disabilities is substantial higher, but I think I understand why the findings are so dismal.

Toleration or having a sense of being tolerated is probably the worst type of division that all people with disabilities and of different cultural backgrounds experience at one time. Due to the fact that there is such a stigma being classified as an individual with a disability, the less than two percent is not surprising at all. Being tolerated within your circle of colleagues or workplace means a lack of willingness to bridge that gap of true understanding and acceptance; breeds disrespect and lack of dignity; but mostly, the toleration that I’m talking about is the type that communicates to the fortunate few who want to work got where they are, not based on their own merits, but because of someone’s good graces or given the opportunity to work because of obligation and other pressures.

I feel that this form of toleration is seeping through all of our government agencies and private businesses and companies, especially when it comes to the recruitment and retention practices of qualified employees with disabilities. And it’s the responsibility of every one of us to embrace those differences and move on together as a team, benefiting one another, and growing together as a workforce. Furthermore, approximately 85% of all disabilities cannot be seen by the naked eye, also known as hidden disabilities. Think about this for a moment. Based on this information, chances are that your family members and friends who do not work within the disability field already know a peer who may or may not disclose his or her disability in their office. But does it really matter? In the end, we’re one of the same in the dark; we’re all human.

In closing, I have Five Lessons for you to take back as you continue to improve upon your work. You can forget who I am, but remember what I’m saying here today. Here we go, take notes, because you are officially now enrolled in Mat 101!

Lesson #1:
Which type of individual is the most dangerous in this world of ours? The one that realizes his/her own potential and constantly strives to be the very best while making a positive difference in the lives of others. True, individuals with guns and bombs are dangerous, but not as dangerous as individuals who are committed in making a positive impact on others. I was born into a world that wasn’t meant for me, but I’m willing to participate in this world in hopes of making the path of individuals closely following behind me easier. I’m not known for talking about what’s important, but instead my legacy lies in the actions that I take to improve my community. In relationship to that thought, if fellow colleagues ask you why they should consider improving upon their workplace by being more inclusive of their employees with disabilities, challenge them by replying:

This is your life, are you who you want to be?
If not, arise and be everything you hope and dreamed to be.

I am a dangerous person. The possibilities are great. Only I know my potential, and that’s the reason why I am dangerous. I challenge all of the supervisors, managers and employees to realize your own potential and the potential of others. Only then, will the less than two percent begin to reverse the trend.

Lesson #2:
The world is a highly competitive place. In a society where social status is given great emphasis, conformity is what some people revert to when trying to get ahead of the game. Conform when you must, but don’t allow social biases and organizational pressures prevent you from doing what is right. Think critically, always think critically. When making a more inclusive environment for all of your colleagues with and without disabilities: Go against the norm, make some noise, and challenge the ones around you. Think and use your mind to make a positive difference within your office and the colleagues that you impact. Use your mind and achieve greatness – consider the impossibility and transform it into reality. That’s how the best arise from all the rest.

Lesson #3:
You may be unsure if you’re able or possess the resources to create an inclusive work environment that values and embraces your employees’ diverse abilities, strengths and talents. Take heart, though, I’m worried for you, but it’s all good! You could view this as an obstacle, but don’t. View it as a challenge to overcome. View it as a way to become a better person. You will be faced with many challenges throughout your lifetime. The questions are: Do you have the heart and integrity to overcome your fears? Do you have the courage within yourself to rise above it all? Your heart should already be able to answer these questions.

Lesson #4:
Don’t be afraid to fail. No one should be afraid of failing. Without failing, you can’t learn to succeed. You only really fail when you don’t learn from your mistakes and give up. Never give up. Never give up on your dreams and passions in life. When you do fail, consider this: “And God help you if you are a phoenix and you dare rise from the ash. A thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy while you are just flying back” (32 Flavors - Ani Difranco). When you’re near the bottom, have the courage to be the phoenix that dares rise up from the ash. Go against the norms of society and beat the odds. Remember this: “A spirit with a vision is a dream on a mission” (Mission - Rush). Take this to heart, persistence and determination win.

Fifth and final lesson:
The fifth and final lesson is actually small remainders as you conduct your work in the office on a daily basis. Smile and laugh often, you look more attractive when you do. When in trouble, talk very slowly and think quickly. Chew with your mouth closed and don’t bite your nails, your bad habits will be scrutinized by your colleagues. Always be proud of your company's letters or logo that you wear, you’re telling everyone that your community and fellow colleagues are greater than your own ambitions. That’s really saying something. Rely on your employees and colleagues. “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other, one” (One - U2). They are there for a reason. Finally, and most importantly, give thanks whenever you can to your colleagues, employees, friends, family, and loved ones. Your success depends on it.

Remember these Five Lessons: Realize your potential and go to the top; Use your mind and always think critically. It’s beautiful to see you grow; Don’t be afraid to fail, that’s the only way to succeed; Overcome your challenges, you will achieve immortality through the eyes of others, and finally; Don’t forget to give thanks. If you do you’re very best of creating the most inclusive work environments for your colleagues and friends with and without disabilities, you will truly be getting things done! Thank you very much and I wish you the very best.

In the photo: Senator Tom Harkin (IA) and I are taking a moment together in front of the White House on July 26, 2010 - the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

31 August, 2010

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” - Mike Tyson

Figuratively speaking of course. Who would have expected such resounding philosophy from the American heavyweight champion? While Tyson said this in response to a reporter’s question about his level of anxiety of a competitor developing a fight plan against him we can also use Tyson’s advice as early career professionals, stick with me on this. Most of us are in the position we are in, due to the fact that we are achievers. You know what I mean, the type of people that give thought to our professional actions and goals and then set out after them with rigorous planning and the execution of a well practiced debate team, conscious of the pros, cons and obstacles we will meet on our way. Along this road we develop professional relationships, resources and a bevy of skills that will serve us well as we make our way hand over hand up the career ladder to our ultimate goal. And then life happens.

You know what this is…it’s a number of factors that didn’t really make it into your original plan…a job that presented itself before you thought you were ready for it, a botched interview, re-location, a change in interests, or the most sneaky of them all love, which can lead to marriage and a family thus making your one person quest of the world come to a screeching halt and demand that you scrap your previous plans and now factor in these changes which you had never considered being there much less serving as big orange cones to defer your original course.

Long range planning has always been my personal life preserver; I took joy in mapping out my actions and tasks that could lead to everything from finishing grad school to paying off a credit card. What my life, and a doctorate degree, has taught me is that even the best laid plans can be re-directed with life’s changes. Those are the everyday events that subtly change your course until you realize it has been three weeks and your to do list has gone from a cute list of three things to do into four sheets of legal pad paper with a nasty attitude. When you are struck with this as an early career professional it is important to remember you are not alone and that even with these detours your journey can be all the sweeter. Let’s face it if you’re going to get punched in the face, and you will (figuratively), those life changes can help to soften the blow and remind you that even if you don’t see it coming change can be impetus to greatness that you could never have planned for.

24 August, 2010

“I want to go some place where I can marvel at something.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Last week, Corina concluded her blog post with “After all, the journey is more fun than the destination!” How I resonate with her sentiments on lifelong learning and adventures that await you at each crossroad of your life!

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, she travels around the world to rediscover herself. While my road trip in the AUCD network is not quite as glamorous, it is filled with inspirational mentors, unforeseen obstacles, unchartered waters, unusual reinvention, and plenty of laughter. I marveled at my stops in the West Virginia UCEDD, Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) one of two MA UCEDD, the LEND Program at ICI Children’s Hospital of Boston and the AUCD Central Office. Each place has allowed me to develop and to fuel my passion in assistive technology, national and community service, interdisciplinary leadership training, public health and disabilities, and above all serving and working with individuals with disabilities of all ages for community integration and inclusion.

Presently, the journey has taken me to the Maternal Child Health Bureau (MCHB) at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) where I have worked on grant guidance development, social media strategy implementation, and many Bureau wide activities. As soon as I joined MCHB, I was quickly immersed in Life Course Theory literature and the various efforts of the Bureau to engage experts in the field for the development of a new five year strategic plan based on this theoretical framework. Among what I have read and learned, I have come to embrace the Life Course framework in its emphasis of the cumulative impact of children developing within families, families existing within a community, and the community embedding within the larger society. Much of the essence of Life Course has been embodied in the work of the UCEDDs and LENDs within the DD and the broader disability communities and for children with special health care needs and their families. The broad three areas of change outlined in the Policy Brief. A New Agenda for MCH Policy and Programs: integrating a Life Course Perspective by Fine A, Kotelchuck M, Adess N, Pies C. 2009 included:

· Rethinking and realigning the organization and delivery of individual and population-based health services.
· Linking health services with other services and supports (educational, social services, etc).
· Transforming social, economic, and physical environments to promote health.

Looking into the future, the field will have to work collaboratively to further advance the research and science, to facilitate the training and program development, and to impact policy changes. Exciting times lie ahead!

I am continually enthralled by new knowledge learned and yet newer knowledge to be gained. If you are just at the beginning of your journey or in the midst of your journey, may you relish unconventional experiences, discover novel ideas, and most of all find some place where you can marvel at something.

18 August, 2010

Learn, Learn and Learn!

Little did I know when I made early education choices what impact they would have on my early career! While long-term planning is not one of my strongest skills, I have always tried to learn as much as possible about everything. And so far it has proven very helpful and I have come to realize that in my current position I am using knowledge that I had thought virtually useless.

When I was in high-school in my native country Romania, I took intensive computer programming and database management classes, which back then I found interesting. But by the end of high-school, I decided I did not want to see the blue screen of death in Turbo Pascal anymore. So I went to college and got my Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, with a concentration in Tourism Management. When I was in the last year of undergrad, I —on a whim— applied for and was offered an eighteen month position with Marriott International. In my thirst to discover the world, I excitedly took the job and in September 2006 joined the team of the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC, as Event Operations Supervisor.

This position at the hotel gave me the opportunity to meet diverse people and work on a variety of meetings and events. There are several conferences I worked that I remember in particular. AUCD’s Annual Meeting and Conference is definitely one of them. It made a lasting impression on me because I became aware of the organization’s dedication to helping achieve inclusion of people with disabilities. I don’t think I have shared this memory with anyone from AUCD before, but I would like to share it with you. During one of the sessions at AUCD’s 2007 Annual Meeting —while I was on the Renaissance staff— I joined the attendees in walking around and looking at posters set-up on the sides of the ballroom. As I was glancing at the poster of a red-haired healthy woman smiling happily at me, a lady approached me. She was in a wheelchair, and we talked for a couple minutes. Then, as we were both looking at the poster of the healthy woman, she told me it was herself before ALS affected her… Needless to say, her story moved me. But beyond that, I developed a genuine appreciation and admiration for an organization whose mission is to help improve others’ lives. And since this lady attended their event, it was clear proof that not only was their mission a very generous one, but they were also doing a wonderful job.

During my eighteen months at the Renaissance Hotel, I started to consider some options for a master’s degree. I researched further, and as I was enjoying my position in the Events Department, I decided to apply for the Master of Tourism Administration, a professional degree offered by the George Washington University School of Business. I was admitted into the program, and started in the fall of 2008. I was a full-time student, and I was also working 20 hours a week as a Graduate Assistant. Even though my schedule was pretty busy, I decided I wanted to do more. Well, coincidence or not, I received an email via the school listserv, which advertised a Meetings Intern position with AUCD! I thought it was a great learning opportunity for me and I also remembered the admiration I had for the organization. I still knew the names of a couple staff members I had met during the Annual Meeting! So, I crafted the best cover letter I could and applied for the internship. They remembered me too, and I was excited to get the internship. It was a pretty busy time juggling school and work, but I feel I learned very much and came to discover that AUCD is indeed a wonderful organization.

After graduating this past May, I became a full-time staff member at AUCD. As Project Assistant, I am using the diverse knowledge I talked about in the introduction of my blog. I am helping with meeting planning and coordination, which is what I started with as Meetings Intern. But I have also taken additional responsibilities and am putting to work the computer programming and database management skills I gained in my earlier education. It feels good to use these skills again, and I am ever so glad that I can contribute even a tiny bit to the generous and meaningful work of integrating people with disabilities. Moreover, I have understood the importance of a job that is driven by mission, and that is my strongest incentive to come to work every day.

In the end, I would just like to emphasize again the importance of continuous learning. My story illustrates how knowledge I gained just for its own sake became surprisingly useful later in life. Constantly look for something new and improve your knowledge. Remember to expand your horizons, because everything you learn will serve you someday, maybe when you least expect it. Having a long term goal and vision is very useful to guide your career steps, but at least in the early days, don’t be afraid to learn as much as you can and take on challenging opportunities. And remember to always enjoy what you are doing because that will motivate you to do your best and exceed your limits. After all, the journey is more fun than the destination!

09 August, 2010

The Number 26

There's a number that I can't get out of my head.

It's the number 26.

These past few days have had me working on a grant proposal with an employment element to it and so have been in the wonderful process of literature reviews and brainstorming and casting visions in the space between my ears and on the white board that's on my wall at work. It takes me back to my student days when I was at the UIC UCEDD, studying to get the terminal degree in Disability Studies. I worked so hard to gain that intellectual status (not sure if that ever happened), and actually enjoyed the intensity of synthesizing theories and social policies and applying them to life - and, of course, writing papers under pressing deadlines. It's my zone.

So here I am over the weekend, reading Butterworth, et al's State Data: The National Report on Employment Services and Outcomes report (go to UMass UCEDD ICI's website for the report at ) and there it was: the number 26.

It was on page 7, I believe. Preceded by the words "In FY2003, only" and followed by the words "percent of individuals with ID/DD supported by community rehabilitation providers worked in integrated settings..." followed of course by the appropriate citation of the authors as these kinds of quotes should always do. But my eyes stuck on the number and my heart faltered just a bit. It wasn't the usual number 14 that was used in the typical disability employment stats to indicate the current rate of unemployment for people with disabilities of all sorts that have been in the workplace. Nope, this number was different.

Translation: 74 out of every 100 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are working in segrated settings, or at least this was the case in 2003. S-E-V-E-N-T-Y-F-O-U-R. P-E-O-P-L-E.

While I should have known this number, the fact remains that if it weren't for the amazing scholars that are embedded in the AUCD network that generate these kinds of data, crunch the numbers, and work tirelessly in quiet university offices all over this country, probably those working right next to you, the number would never have been calculated. And if the number had never been calculated, then it would have not been there to inspire someone to change the number, to change the lives the number represents, and by doing so, change the world. Because of the number 26, now I must - I must - change the world.

I bring this up to you, dear AUCD trainees, to emphasize a few points: the AUCD network may be far more powerful and present and relevant to the lives of those with disabilities and others than you realize at this moment. Now, five years away from my graduation at UIC, I continue to be amazed at the depth of resources, information, networks, and dedication to those with disabilities of the AUCD network. I am inspired. The network provides unparalled opportunities for trainees to enter a field that is brimming with important problems that need to be solved, which is full of talent, and which has an open road to take you where you want your career to go. Oh - and one more thing. Find your passion and make it what you do. Get inspired by something and change the world with the gifts you bring to it, in your career, if possible. That way, you get to go work instead of having to.

Enjoy your day,

Ann Cameron

A New Normal

We recently celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act which protects over 50 million Americans. Although many social and physical barriers for people with disabilities have been removed or reduced as a result of the ADA, people with disabilities still face barriers to access and full participation. As Paul Galonsky reminded in his blog (July 21, 2010), “there is still much for you to do to eliminate the physical and emotional struggles that people with disabilities and their families face on a continual and intimate basis.”

This “call to action” is very personal for me. Of course my work in the disabilities field informs and guides me, but my passion and commitment come from an intimate involvement with these struggles as the parent of a child with developmental disabilities. On behalf of my daughter and the many children and families I've known personally and professionally, what has been accomplished is so greatly appreciated and everything that still needs to be addressed can’t come soon enough!

ADA has protected rights and opened doors but it takes changes in beliefs and attitudes to bring about what parents and advocates dream of, a new normal, where opportunities for full inclusion and access to education and meaningful employment are as commonplace and widely available as say, the cell phone. This may seem like pie in the sky but remember the changing world we live in. Twenty years ago there was no ADA but five years ago there were no smart phones, no Kindles, no iPads, no Twitter, no YouTube, no Facebook, and no text messaging lexicon. Today more people in the world have access to cell phones than clean water and e-communication is the norm the world over.

There’s another new normal in career patterns. Thirty years ago it was commonplace to graduate from college, get a job, and stay with one company or one field for an entire professional career. Today, not only is it expected that people will change jobs every few years, it is common for people to have more than one career in a lifetime. My personal experience is a perfect example. While working in higher education and early intervention, I learned about the AUCD-CDC Fellowship with the ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early’campaign. It was a unique opportunity for professional growth, and my experiences to date have exceeded my expectations.

When I describe my role at the CDC many people are surprised to learn that for more than 10 years CDC has played a key role in developing science, evidence base, surveillance, and programs to support people with disabilities. Along with this commitment to the field, comes a commitment to fostering the next generation of researchers, scientists, epidemiologists, and other medical and behavioral health practitioners. CDC offers many public health training fellowships.

On the CDC website, you’ll find a range of student, career training, and post doctoral research fellowships for medical, healthcare, and public health professionals, epidemiology, general public health, global public health, public health analysis, management and leadership, health economics and quantitative policy analysis and more. Regardless of your current career path, spending a year or two in public health can be more of a bridge than a detour.

At the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD), where I am located, there are AUCD-CDC fellows In the Developmental Disabilities Branch and Prevention Research Branch, and ORISE fellows (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) , offering many opportunities for professional development and interdisciplinary collaboration.

ADA and technology have changed our world; these changes are, in turn, changing us, how we think, and our expectations. Stay open to change. Think outside the box and encourage others to do so as well. Who knows where the next opportunity will lead!

21 July, 2010

There is still much (for you) to do

Although this may sound obvious and perhaps cliché, as you contemplate your professional purpose within the disability community and how to make our world a more inclusive place, let me remind you that there is still much for you to do to eliminate the physical and emotional struggles that people with disabilities and their families face on a continual and intimate basis. As we will witness next week the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we cannot deceive ourselves into believing that the pledge of the ADA has touched the lives of all people with disabilities.

Recently, my dad turned me on to an essay written back in 1911 that we both agreed speaks to the physical and emotional struggles that people with disabilities and their families still face today. In 1911, Social Critic, Randolph Bourne (1886–1918), wrote an essay entitled The Handicapped, which was published in the Atlantic Monthly. At that time, Mr. Bourne published his essay anonymously. Mr. Bourne, who had a physical disability, was writing about his day to day physical and emotional struggles as a person with a disability, acceptance of who he was as person with a disability, and his relationship with the world around him.

While reading Mr. Bourne’s essay, I found that his discussion about the same lack of inclusiveness for people with disabilities still exists today. For example, Mr. Bourne discussed his struggles to find and attain employment because of his disability. He described trying to find employment as one of the most “bitterest of struggles”, and by not having the same employment opportunities that people without disabilities had left him lacking confidence and self respect. Arguably, although greater employment protections for people with disabilities currently exist and more than what was available back in 1911, it is a fact that today there is a higher percentage of people with disabilities who are unemployed than people without disabilities. In addition, many people with disabilities work in environments that are not always integrated with people without disabilities and their wages are not always similar to people without disabilities. The bottom line is that the struggle for inclusiveness and equity in employment was apparent then, and still exists today.

In addition to Mr. Bourne’s employment challenges, the overall day to day struggles of his life led to emotional suffering and personal setbacks. He indicated that his lack of confidence stemmed from an overall atmosphere and environment where nobody was very confident in him. This in turn furnished within him a “background of consciousness” that reinforced his physical, but equally important, emotional struggles. Not surprisingly though, Mr. Bourne felt that his very real and own ambitions and energies were similar to people without disabilities. But like many people with disabilities then and now, he was not able to see his ambitions and energies through to their fullest potential. “With repeated chances to fail”, Mr. Bourne stated, “I was discounted at the start; and while people were not cruel or unkind, it was the hopeless finality of the thing that filled one’s heart with despair". Mr. Bourne seemingly felt that he was continually challenged by a physical and cultural environment that was not designed for him. I am convinced that there are many individuals similar to Mr. Bourne that currently feel this way about the world around them and would be eager to unlock their energies and fulfill their ambitions and potential as human beings in a more generic and inclusive environment.

I could go on citing additional references in Mr. Bourne’s essay that compare the similarities in the struggles that people with disabilities faced in 1911 to the ones that people with disabilities still face almost 100 year later, but I think a couple of examples formulate my point. The conclusion for me is that much more still needs to be improved upon in our environment, culture, and world for people with disabilities. Perhaps more importantly for you is that you can create the new advocacy and support that is needed to advance the disabilities movement and end the struggles.

I close by recommending reading Mr. Bourne’s essay, and then ask yourself like I did: What has changed for people with disabilities since 1911? In addition, what can you do now to make the world a better place to live in for people with all abilities? If you do not already, you may want to consider as part of your professional purpose keeping in the background of your consciousness the intimate physical and emotional struggles that people with disabilities still face on a continual basis in our world. Perhaps keeping this thought in your background consciousness will hold the key to motivation for you to advance the disability movement in ways that have not been conceived of by others in the past or currently. Acceptance of all people with all abilities in our world is much needed. As such, there is still much for you to do.

13 July, 2010

The Balancing Act

This is a common theme in our office, so I will continue where blogger Crystal Pariseau left off last week!

All of life is a balancing act but what you are balancing shifts and changes depending on your age, priorities and many other factors. How easily you adapt to those changes and re-balance your life is a part of both your professional and personal growth.

As a full-time professional, mom of two, and part-time graduate student, balancing priorities is part of my everyday life. But it has also taught me that with the right combination of support and discipline, you don’t have to put aside your career or another degree for your family or other responsibilities. For women in particular, these can seem like all or nothing choices – you either take a break and have a family or you put starting a family on hold and go to school and/or have a career.

What might seem like a sacrifice, however, can really be a gain. My time at school and working on my studies, while sometimes demanding, is unfettered me-time and has enriched my life both professionally and personally. This in turn strengthens my relationship with my family and gives me more confidence in my work. What a win-win!

Doing non-profit work has always defined me. From my eight years at the American Red Cross national headquarters to a smaller non-profit, then to AUCD, I have gotten married, had two kids, and gone back to school to earn a masters degree. There are certainly times that I wonder if I can manage it all, but I never consider not working, going to school or continuing to do something I love and feel passionate about.

So how can you find you own balance? Here are some tips for making the pursuit of your personal and professional goals a reality:
  • Find an employer who is supportive of both your professional and personal goals and needs.
  • Advocate for yourself! Don’t be afraid to request time (and financial support) of those around you to help you work towards your goals in the workplace, at school, in your home life, etc.
  • Being a mother, father, partner or care-giver (of parents or children) does not diminish your right to fulfill your goals and pursue your own dreams.
  • Find support in your communities – neighbors, co-workers, family and friends – they can all provide time, energy and other resources to help bolster your busy life.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “no” to other requests for your time and assistance when your personal plate is especially full.
  • Share your experiences with your family - talk with your kids and loved ones about the excitement of going back to school or an interesting project at work and how much their support means to you.

Last year, my then six-year-old daughter wrote me a note that I keep taped to my monitor that says, “I love you mommy. I think you are the best. You do good things.” If that isn’t validation enough that the balancing act is worth it, I don’t know what is!

06 July, 2010

On the Beam

Your voice mail has 7 new messages, and there are 237 unread emails in your inbox. The summary needs to be written, and a stack of journals is sitting at your elbow. The document needs re-formatting and the spreadsheet is out of date. You desperately need a haircut, and you know the vacuuming hasn’t been done in a week. There’s a presentation coming up and your handouts aren’t quite perfect, and the boss is asking you to attend a 3-day meeting that screams “big opportunity” for all the people you’ll meet. You forgot to make the cupcakes for the kids’ party tomorrow at school.

You’re long on desire and short on time. Thus is the life of many, especially the early career professionals. Now is the time you want to grab every opportunity you can to follow your passion… and you should! You were trained to be a leader, so you know the value of taking advantage of every chance to advance yourself and your career. And what better chance to do it? But if you’re anything like me, you’re also a bit of a perfectionist and over-achiever, striving to make a good impression and constantly prove yourself by ambitiously tackling new projects. Your ideas are brimming over, and your enthusiasm shows. Good for you! But when the project runs into a snag and you feel as if you’ll never leave the office, it’s time to regain your balance.

Demands for your time are getting stronger and stronger, especially if you are working in a setting where money’s tight and tasks are plenty. Time is even tighter if you’ve got family and kids at home. Sometimes you just need to pause. Take a “walk around the block” break. Spend some time in the garden. Talk to your coworker about a non-office related topic. Play the newest video game. Regain your balance.

There’s always something that HAS to be done – and done yesterday. There’s always going to be another innovative idea right around the corner that you really want to tackle. But your mother was right – if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else. WebMD’s article on 5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance suggests protecting your private time so that you can be more successful and fulfilled in your work and personal life. If you don’t take a moment to clear your head, all those great ideas will get jammed up and never come out. One of the worst things you can do is get over-stressed and burned out.

So take 10 minutes and a good office friend and walk to the bakery down the block. You’ll be back in no time, refreshed and better than ever. Then tell your boss you’ll gladly attend the Big Opportunity Meeting. While maintaining the right balance in your life, you’ll also get those slides finished in no time. But balancing your desire to eat the kids’ cupcakes you bought on your walk is another story…

29 June, 2010

Public Health…The family needed a doctor!

As I was brainstorming on what to blog about, I was talking with Annie and recalled attending a family reunion shortly after I had finished my Master of Public Health. My father’s cousin asked me when I was going on to med school. I told this cousin that I had thoughtfully considered my interest to improve and maintain health more broadly, found that public health and social marketing were a great match for me, and that I was job hunting in Washington, DC, since I wanted to work in health promotion at the national level. A thoughtful answer for a snotty question – right? Gets worse. Said cousin goes onto say, “That’s too bad. The family needs a doctor!” At that point I talked up the fact the I had just finished a prevention research fellowship at NICHD, NIH, that I was sitting for the CHES exam the following month, and that philosophically I had changed my focus from wanting to do direct patient care to doing more to help keep people well and maintaining health. (Yes, I was pre-med biology major! My clinic shadowing experience made me pass out, just like the beginning of Quincy!) Then I quickly said, “Oh, look, Cousin so and so is here! Oh, I must go say hello. Talk with you later!” … Whew!

Family mingling is sometimes the toughest mingling there is. Bottom line, the skill that I rely on the most in my day to day work, and life in general, is relationship building.

So, what is public health anyway? It’s the electricity coming safely into your home to make that alarm ring in the morning. It’s clean water for you to brush your teeth. It’s having healthy options from the grocery store to the restaurant. It’s knowing that if you have a disability, you can live well because you have access to medical treatment and screenings, a good education, and an environment where it is safe to live, work and play.

Making people want to adopt healthier behavior of their own accord – that’s social marketing. This is where relationship building meets public health. How do you persuade people to do what they can to be healthy? Talk with them and build a relationship. You’ve heard the term focus groups. That’s just one way to have a better understanding of the communities you are trying to serve. Discussion groups, key informant interviews, phone interviews with target audiences, surveys, and polls will all provide you with a gut check on how to deliver your message in a way that is relevant and will be heard.

According to communication theory, people need to hear a message about eight times before they really “hear” it. So, I use several different tools to convey public health messages, like the internet, social media, printed materials like fact sheets and brochures, and traditional media. (I had the opportunity to serve as a spokesperson for a National Council on Folic Acid radio media tour earlier this year.) It’s about relationship building and helping people see you as a resource in a particular area. Social media is a great tool to assist you in maintaining and growing work relationships…even if you think you don’t need it. (See How Social Media Helps Dinosaurs to Dance.)

You are fortunate enough to be connected with a national network of university-based interdisciplinary programs aka AUCD! I have the good fortune of serving on the AUCD-CDC cooperative agreement, so here is the shameless self promotion portion of my post. Here are some tips on how to harness the power of the AUCD network to help you build your professional relationships:

1. Seek out ways to support grant funded efforts. Research Topics of Interest or RTOIs are great translational science efforts that strive to minimize the time between a brilliant idea and an effective, evidence based practice. Working or volunteering with a research team is a great skill that will assist you in your job seeking efforts. (See When They Require Experience And You Have None.)

2. Submit a proposal for the upcoming AUCD conference. Your work may be just the information that another Early Career Professional would benefit from! Plus, this is a great way to “practice” some of your content for a potential publication in the future.

3. Look for ways to support the efforts of the State Disability and Health Grantees. Even if you reside in a state without a grantee, you can possibly serve as a reviewer or a subject matter expert long distance.

4. Volunteer with a coalition or work with a group of partners. With limited resources, we all need to work together in creative ways to be effective and speak with a unified voice. AUCD supports the work of the Friends of NCBDDD, which has many partners from around the country.

My point – get out there! You can do it! There are relationships to be had! And when you are in a tough interview setting, or an uncomfortable family setting, it’s important to stay positive and true to your own goals.