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:

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!