Addressing diversity and equity

Photo collage of several LEND trainees

Two new diversity and equity efforts are underway through the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s LEND and UCEDD programs.

LEND video aims to improve racial and ethnic diversity of trainees

The Vanderbilt Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Training Program is focusing efforts on increasing racial and ethnic diversity among its pool of long-term trainees, thanks to a grant from the Interdisciplinary Technical Assistance Center on Autism and Developmental Disabilities of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.

The supplemental funding has allowed for the development of a new recruitment video to attract a more diverse pool of pre-service professionals to the field of neurodevelopmental disabilities. The video highlights African-American and Latino health care professionals who currently serve individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities. The professionals explain what factors led them to choose their careers and the multitude of benefits that they experience as a result.

“We know that it takes a team of health care professionals to provide excellent care to individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families,” said Tyler Reimschisel, M.D., director of the LEND program, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Neurology, and director of the Division of Developmental Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics. “The more diverse the team is, the better the care will be. For example, as different ethnic and cultural groups view developmental disabilities differently, the presence of team members from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds will help us meet the needs of all patients and families. The AUCD funding and the excellent video we have developed will help us foster interest in this field among future health care professionals. In time it will help us reach our ultimate goal of providing better care to our patients and their families.”

According to LEND staff, the pool of candidates from master’s and graduate-level programs from which LEND trainees are selected rarely includes underrepresented minorities, despite longstanding LEND collaborations among Vanderbilt University, Fisk University, Belmont University, Tennessee State University, and Meharry Medical College. Changing that is a top priority for the Vanderbilt LEND program.

“This really is an exciting opportunity to heighten awareness of disability and diversity issues and to bring more minority professionals into the field,” said Machelle Thompson, RDH, MSPH, assistant dean of Clinical Affairs at Meharry Medical College and director of the Vanderbilt LEND Multicultural Initiative. “It is crucial for students who are in the early stages or pre-stages of their careers to see health care professionals from underrepresented minorities. There is no doubt in my mind that doors will be opened, and I look forward to ushering many new health care professionals across that threshold.”

For more information on the Vanderbilt LEND Training Program, or to view the recruitment video, visit

VKC Ability, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Taskforce

Staff and faculty of the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) are spearheading the Ability, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Task Force (AIDE). The Task Force emerged from recommendations made by VKC faculty and staff via the Cultural and Linguistic Self-Assessment survey conducted internally in 2013 by the VKC Multicultural Outreach Program. The goal of the new Task Force is to promote inclusion and equity for individuals with developmental differences in ability by enhancing the VKC’s capacity to support and serve individuals with disabilities and families from diverse communities.

Headshot of Sheryl Rimrodt-Frierson

Sheryl Rimrodt-Frierson, M.D.

Headshot of Tracy Beard

Tracy Beard

“The Task Force is in alignment with other inclusion and health equity efforts at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” said Sheryl Rimrodt, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and faculty clinic director of the VKC Learning Assessment Clinic. “We are thrilled about the opportunity to build upon the strong foundation already within the VKC, namely the talented faculty, staff, and students dedicated to principles of equitable access for all individuals.”

Task Force members will work over the next year to outline a strategic plan for implementing the resources and recommendations identified and developed through the work of the group.

“We are dedicated to creating a more inclusive and equitable world through cultural humility,” said Tracy Beard, assistant director of Tennessee Disability Pathfinder. “We have an enormous vision and task ahead. It is the importance of this issue, the commitment of VKC leadership, and watching the Center grow and expand that excites me the most.”

For more information on AIDE, contact tracy.beard@Vanderbilt.Edu.

Courtney Taylor is associate director of VKC Communications and Dissemination.

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This is a monthly email of Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Notables published by the Communications staff of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. Between issues of Notables, you can stay up to date on the latest Vanderbilt Kennedy Center news, information, and resources via the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Facebook page.