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19 May, 2014

Inclusion and Acceptance

Elaine Eisenbaum, MSW
2013-2014 AUCD Virtual Trainee

Flash back to 2008 and I'm having lunch at Capitol City Brewing Company with the students and faulty from Virginia Commonwealth University LEND. At the time I was working at L'Arche Greater Washington DC as the Program Director in Arlington, VA and attending the Disability Policy Seminar as part of my professional development. I had an interest in disability policy but I really didn’t know much about the organizations putting on the conference. I went to the conference alone, knowing no one. The tables had state designations and I sat at Virginia’s table. There I met the then Executive Director of the VCU Partnership for People with Disabilities, Fred Orelove, and the VCU LEND students. This group showed genuine interest in getting to know me. They integrated me into their group with ease; including the lunch they invited me to join them at.  Right away I thought, Wow, I wish I had known about the LEND program and the AUCD network when I was in my master’s program. What a great opportunity to learn! But more than that, I was impressed by the warmth and inclusion they showed me. The seed was planted. I think I’d like to work within the AUCD network. If I go back for my PhD, I want to be part of the AUCD network!

Flash forward to 2013 and I'm having déjà vu at the AUCD conference. Once again I find myself at Capitol City Brewing Company, this time with the students and faculty from the Cincinnati LEND and UCEDD. By now I’ve met many people within the network. I've left the DC area and gone back to school to pursue my PhD at the University of Texas at Austin. I’ve secured a traineeship and graduate research assistantship at Texas Center for Disability Studies (TCDS). After a year at TCDS I wanted to get more involved in the greater AUCD network, and when my executive director and mentor approached me about the Virtual Trainee position, I was eager to apply. However, that year I didn't get the position. But I was able to increase my involvement with AUCD the following year by serving as a Trainee Liaison and attending the AUCD conference with the support of my Center and an AUCD trainee scholarship. I applied for the Virtual Trainee position again the next year, and this time, I got it! Although I knew many more people at the 2013 conference than I had during my initial introduction to AUCD at DPS 2008, I was still the only trainee at the conference from my Center. I didn't have a large group to belong to with planned social activities. Yet once again, others embraced me, and the Cincinnati crew invited me to join their group for dinner. These are just two examples of inclusion and kindness shown towards me, but during my time and experiences within the AUCD network, many more small and large gestures of inclusion have been extended my way, increasing my sense of belonging as well as my desire to stay within this AUCD community. I suspect my experiences of inclusion and acceptance at AUCD are not unique, but rather that inclusion of trainees and those who are new is pervasive.

During the course of my term as Virtual Trainee, one of the duties of my position has been to support fellow trainees to make connections within the network, with the goal that they will ultimately want to stay connected to AUCD. AUCD has worked to facilitate this connectedness by creating social media for trainees, trainee listserves, hosting networking events, and working to increase scholarships so that more trainees can attend and meet each other in person at the AUCD conference. AUCD has also been clear in its messaging that trainees are valued network members by creating the Virtual Trainee position, creating the Board Trainee position, having Trainee Liaisons work on projects of importance to the network, and including trainees on the AUCD conference review teams. Andy Imparato recently reinforced this point when addressing trainees at the DPS Trainee Symposium. "Trainees, you are important. You are the future leaders in the disability field. You will change the world."

As trainees looking for a place of future employment, we want to work in an environment where we feel connected, valued and have opportunities to impact positive change. But, just as importantly, if not more so, we want to work in a place where we feel like we belong, where all are fully included. Working towards a more inclusive world begins at the organizational level. It necessitates a complete embracement and celebration of every aspect of diversity within our own network. Not only does this philosophy encourage trainees to stay within the network, but it also allows us, as an organization, to reach our full potential in impacting the world. And I look forward to continuing to be a part of it.


Kara on May 21, 2014 at 1:22 PM said...

Great post! I've really enjoyed and appreciating your contributions as virtual trainee. It was so much fun to share dinner and time with you in DC and you are absolutely right-organizational inclusion (including after-hours event) is key.

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