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:

09 August, 2010

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!


tracylee on August 9, 2010 at 3:20 PM said...
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