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:

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.