VKC presence at National Conferences of The Arc U.S. and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Bob Hodapp and Ellen Casale

From presentations and posters on model programs and research to award-winning trainees, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) faculty, staff, and trainees are reaching a national audience through two high profile conferences this month.

The Arc U.S. National Convention

The Arc U.S. National Convention, held in Nashville, Tennessee, this year, took place November 8-10. The Convention is an annual gathering of families, advocates, and professionals in the disability community. Representatives of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center were among a number of speakers sharing information on topics like advocacy, supports and services, housing, employment, and more.

Elise McMillan, J.D.

Elise McMillan, J.D.

Elise McMillan, J.D., co-director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD) and president of The Arc U.S. Board of Directors, was on hand to lead a gathering of the Board and to present on the partnerships the VKC UCEDD has had over the years with The Arc Tennessee.

“It’s important to be sure people know what wonderful opportunities there are for partnerships between The Arc and University Centers for Excellence across the country,” said McMillan. “We have similar missions and goals and building projects together has greatly enhanced the work that we have been able to do in Tennessee. I was excited to share more about our collaborations over the years to encourage greater impact across the country with my colleagues.”

McMillan presented during the session “Creating a Common Agenda: The Arc and UCEDD Collaboration,” along with Robert Hodapp, Ph.D., professor of Special Education and VKC UCEDD director of Research; Courtney Taylor, associate director of Communication and Dissemination; and Carrie Guiden, executive director of The Arc Tennessee.

Additionally, Tammy Day, director of Next Steps at Vanderbilt, presented on increasing high school and college opportunities for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Her co-presenters included Alison Gauld from the Tennessee Department of Education and Chloe Young, a sophomore enrolled in Next Steps at Vanderbilt.

Keivan Stassun, director of the Vanderbilt Initiative for Autism, Innovation & the Workforce, presented on a model employment pipeline for improving access to meaningful employment for adults with autism.

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center was an official sponsor of The Arc U.S. Convention.

Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) 2018 Conference

Held in Washington, D.C., on November 11-14, the 2018 AUCD Conference focused presentations around the theme of achieving inclusive communities. The VKC UCEDD’s impact in the area of inclusion was highlighted in concurrent sessions and poster presentations, and its training impact was celebrated through the recognition of two award-winning trainees.

Ellen Casale, M.Ed., Ed.S., a doctoral candidate in Special Education and coordinator of the Volunteer Advocacy Project (VAP), received the 2018 Anne Rudigier Award.

“Ellen demonstrates an exceptional combination of accomplishment and commitment to supporting people with disabilities and their families,” said Robert Hodapp. “She integrates training, advocacy, and research in her work focusing on families. Her leadership skills are evident through all she has done to expand the VAP, and she is a whirlwind of activity and productivity, and is a born teacher.”

Elizabeth Biggs, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Biggs, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Biggs, Ph.D., won AUCD’s CORE Trainee Research Award. Nominated by her former advisor, Erik Carter, Ph.D., Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair and professor of Special Education, Biggs worked on a wide range of research, service, and teaching projects while serving as a VKC UCEDD trainee.

“Elizabeth is unwavering in her commitment to ensuring children with complex communication challenges can access the very best services and supports possible,” said Carter. “She is convinced every student with a severe disability ought to have the supports they need to live a good life in community with others. Her work clearly embodies what we value at our UCEDD—undertaking rigorous, relevant research that is shared in ways that reach the practitioners who need it most.”

The Tennessee Council’s Executive Director Wanda Willis was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. This is given annually to an outstanding leader to recognize dedication to people with intellectual disabilities and their families.  Willis invited the leaders of all Tennessee’s DD Network programs, including VKC UCEDD Co-Director Elise McMillan, to join her in accepting the award and focused on the importance of a strong DD Network during her acceptance speech.

TN DD Network Directors (left to right): Elise McMillan, Bruce Kiesling, Wanda Willis, and Lisa Primm.

“The DD Act is a masterpiece written by families more than 50 years ago,” said Willis. “They had the foresight to create these three complimentary programs that each address a critical and otherwise unmet need for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They remain as relevant today as they were then.”

A number of the AUCD Conference’s concurrent sessions were led by VKC faculty and staff. Erik Carter led a session on inclusion and belonging in faith communities, promoting the research he and his colleagues have done looking at trends in theology, theory, and pastoral practice. He also was involved in a conversation on how UCEDDs can develop an intentional strategic plan for engaging community to encourage inclusion.

Tyler Reimschisel, M.D., MPHE, director of the Vanderbilt Consortium LEND, presented on the implementation of a mini-fellowship program in developmental-behavioral and neurodevelopmental disabilities clinics for primary pediatric health care professionals.

Lauren Weaver, M.S., coordinator of the Community Engagement Program at the VKC Treatment and Research Institute on Autism Spectrum Disorders (VKC TRIAD), and Whitney Loring, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist at TRIAD, shared about the work of TRIAD’s Community Engagement Program.

Elise McMillan, J.D., took part in a panel conversation on the shifting management of Medicaid medical and non-medical (long-term services and supports) programs to Managed Care Organizations.

Poster presentations from VKC-affiliated faculty and staff included the topics of medical resident training needs in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Community Engagement Studios for adults with ASD, a teleconferencing model for Families First, collaboration across disability-focused programs, and the mental health needs of students with ASD.

For additional information on any of the presentations or posters mentioned in this article, contact courtney.taylor@vumc.org.

Courtney Taylor is associate director of VKC Communications and Dissemination.

Pictured top of the page:  Robert Hodapp and Ellen Casale, M.Ed., Ed.S. Photo by Nicholas Holt.

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