Plan now for Fall training

Megan Hart, M.Ed.

Summer is an ideal time to make plans to take part in Fall training opportunities that will enhance your knowledge of disability-related topics and issues. Training will be offered by the Volunteer Advocacy Project and by Tennessee Disability Pathfinder.

“Training is one of our core missions as a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD),” said Elise McMillan, J.D., co-director of the VKC UCEDD, VKC director of Community Engagement and Public Policy, and senior lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “In addition to the training that we provide for university students in a variety of disciplines and degree programs, we provide training to practicing professionals, individuals with disabilities and family members, direct care professionals, and disability advocates.”

Volunteer Advocacy Training

Volunteer Advocacy Project

Volunteer Advocacy Project

Realizing the challenges that parents face in advocating for their children with disabilities, the Volunteer Advocacy Project (VAP) provides training to individuals interested in becoming special education advocates for families of school-age children with disabilities in Tennessee. Since its inception in Fall 2008, the VAP has trained more than 350 advocates across the state.

“As parents and siblings of children with disabilities are well aware, the laws and policies governing special education can be complex to navigate,” McMillan said. “In response to this need, our UCEDD launched VAP with the leadership of Megan Burke, a sibling and a dedicated doctoral student in Special Education at Peabody College, who is now on the Special Education faculty of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Over time, VAP has been evaluated and enhanced to maximize its effectiveness.”

VAP has two components: 40 hours of training spread over 12 weekly sessions, and the linkage of each volunteer advocate with four families of children with disabilities.

Training covers a variety of topics related to special education advocacy: evaluations and eligibility, individualized education plans, assistive technology, discipline provisions, behavior intervention plans, non-adversarial advocacy techniques, legislative change, least restrictive environment, and extended school year services.

Training is presented by various speakers including professors, attorneys, parents of children with disabilities, and advocates. Reading assignments of relevant laws and regulations accompany each class session.

VAP training, based at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, is offered at multiple sites across Tennessee via distance technology. In the past, training has been video-conferenced to Memphis, Martin, Mountain City, Jackson, Chattanooga, Cookeville, Crossville, Johnson City, and Knoxville. For each region of the state, various agencies work with the volunteer advocates. In order to participate in the training as a distance site, at least 3 participants per location must register. This promotes the development of support networks throughout the state, in addition to training individuals. VAP has 18 disability-related organizations statewide who are collaborators.

In participants’ evaluation of their VAP experience, they have written:

  • “I have enjoyed gaining more knowledge that will help my family and others.”
  • “I had a great experience and will recommend other parents take the training.”
  • “I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of something that can be life-changing.”
  • “I had a great experience and will recommend other parents take the training.”

Link here to complete the VAP Fall 2017 application. A registration fee of $50 covers curriculum materials. The deadline to apply and pay is July 15.

For information, contact or

Tennessee Disability Pathfinder Community Education Series

Tennessee Disability Pathfinder provides an annual Community Education Series at sites in Middle, West, and East Tennessee.

Each session extends two-and-a-half hours, and is offered at no cost to community service providers, advocates, individuals with disabilities, and family members. Presenters includes staff at community agencies who offer services and resources related to the session topic.

For 2017-18, the Community Education Series will focus on Future Planning.

“Future Planning involves ways to help guide individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities to lead satisfying, productive lives in their communities,” McMillan said. “A variety of approaches can be used that typically involve family members, friends, and advocates. Planning is especially important to prepare for transitions, including the transition from early intervention or early childhood special education to school, the transition from school to adult life, and long-term plans as individuals with disabilities and family members age.”

For the Future Planning series, Pathfinder will be collaborating with several partnering agencies, inviting each to provide a 20-minute presentation about the services they provide to prepare individuals with disabilities for the future. Collaborators will include agencies such as Able TN, Employment and Community First CHOICES, The Arc Tennessee, and others.

“The purpose of the Community Education Series is to give participants an opportunity to learn more about services available in their communities and to network with the agencies that provide them,” said Megan Hart, director of Tennessee Disability Pathfinder. “We have found these trainings to be valuable experiences for people who attend—service providers, individuals with disabilities, and family members—as they access resources within their own communities.”

Trainings will be held in East, Middle, and West Tennessee. To determine locations and dates, check the Community Calendar on the Pathfinder website and/or subscribe to The Compass, Pathfinder’s monthly e-newsletter.

Tennessee Disability Pathfinder provides free information, resources, support, and referrals to Tennesseans with disabilities and their families. Pathfinder includes a helpline, website with searchable database of Tennessee services and supports, and a multicultural program.

Pathfinder is supported by the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, the VKC UCEDD, the Tennessee Department of Health, and the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Jan Rosemergy is VKC deputy director and director of Communication and Dissemination.

Pictured top of page: Tennessee Disability Pathfinder community training led by Pathfinder director Megan Hart


Giving Banner

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.