Andy Imparato, J.D., leader of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), addressed Tennessee strengths and offered challenges in his visit with the Community Advisory Council of the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at its quarterly meeting, June 15.
AUCD Network and the VKC UCEDD
AUCD is a membership organization that supports and promotes the national network of university-based, interdisciplinary programs that includes the 67 UCEDDs, the 52 LENDs (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental disabilities), and the 14 IDDRCs (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers).
“At the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, your organization is exceptional. You are blessed to have the leadership of your UCEDD, LEND, IDDRC, and TRIAD [Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders] as the fourth leg, all working together,” Imparato said. “And I work for you.”
Imparato has visited 64 of the 67 UCEDDs since he joined AUCD as executive director of AUCD in September, 2013.
His visit here included attending a National Science Foundation Convergence Workshop hosted by the Vanderbilt Initiative for Autism, Innovation, and the Workforce, in partnership with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.
“The workshop included participants from many states as well as from Canada and Australia,” Imparato said, “and the models and ideas presented have relevance for those with other types of developmental disabilities. What you’re doing here has worldwide implications.”
Strengths of this UCEDD that he emphasized included communication and dissemination—“I love your focus on getting things out to the public, and your storytelling is stellar”—and Tennessee Disability Pathfinder—“No other center is doing information and referral at this scale.” He posed a challenge of building out Pathfinder and its Multicultural Outreach Program beyond Tennessee.
As a disability rights lawyer and policy professional with more than two decades of experience in government and advocacy roles, Imparato has worked with bipartisan policymakers to advance disability policy at the national level in the areas of civil rights, workforce development, and disability benefits. His perspective is informed by his personal experience with bipolar disorder.
“Our work is always bipartisan,” said Imparato, and gave as a recent example the passage of the ABLE Act of 2014 with bipartisan support.
ABLE is an acronym for Achieve Better Life Experience. The federal ABLE Act amended Section 529 of the IRS Code of 1986 to allow families to create tax-advantaged savings accounts for family members with disabilities, which can be used to cover qualified disability expenses, without costing access to government assistance such as Medicaid. Although the federal tax code allows for ABLE accounts, it is up to states to set up and administer the programs, which has been done in Tennessee, thanks to disability advocacy.
Imparato described a major thrust of current disability policy areas as “do no harm”—that is, advocacy to protect programs that are mainstays of the current service system, such as Medicaid, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Affordable Care Act.
“The need to modernize programs is the 800-pound gorilla in disability policy,” Imparato said. “Current programs were put in place at a time when, as a society, we assumed that adults with disabilities were not capable of working. Today we expect people with disabilities to work, and we need supports for them to be part of the labor force. We need to find new ways to bring resources into the system.”
Diversity and Leadership
One of the pillars of the AUCD Strategic Map is to “Grow Diverse and Skilled Leaders.” Imparato emphasized the importance of developing cross-disability competence and cross-cultural cooperation.
“The leadership of the disability field nationally does not reflect the diversity of our U.S. population,” said Imparato. “We need to cultivate leaders, and especially we need to cultivate leaders who have disabilities.”
In addition to LEND programs having Family Trainees, Self-Advocate Trainees are being added.
Imparato encouraged creating a Tennessee “pipeline” for leadership development, which might include, for example, graduates of the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities’ Partners in Policy Making program and LEND Trainees.
“When we think about people with disabilities, we can bring people together,” said Imparato. “You work together very well in Tennessee and are a good example of what is possible in our Network. I’m an optimist.”
About the VKC UCEDD CAC
The Community Advisory Council is a full partner in planning, implementing, and evaluating activities of the VKC UCEDD. It meets quarterly, and representatives attend the annual meeting of the AUCD and take part in the national Council on Community Advocacy, which is made up of individuals with disabilities and family members from each UCEDD in the national network. Individuals with disabilities and family members make up the majority of the CAC, which also includes representatives of State and community agencies and policy makers. For information about the CAC, contact (615) 936-8852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan Rosemergy is VKC director of Communication and Dissemination.
Pictured top of page: Andy Imparato and Bryshawn Jenison, CAC member and graduate of Next Steps at Vanderbilt.