A message from the VKC Director

Dr. Neul headshot over winter background

As 2020 winds down, I want to thank you for your continued commitments and partnerships this past year, and to wish you all the best in the New Year.

As a world and as individuals, we have faced tragic loss and hardship in 2020. COVID-19 and all-too-common violence and racism have contributed to a year that has felt devastating and heartbreaking. As a Center that works to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) has spent the year in reflection and in taking steps to improve the systems on which we have influence.

COVID-19 has impacted and unfortunately continues to impact individuals with disabilities disproportionately. We know that many students with disabilities have had difficulties accessing and navigating a “free and appropriate education.” We know that many adults with disabilities have lost access to much needed in-person supports and services and to employment. Many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more socially isolated than ever. And as a group, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 complications. The health and social disparities and inequities have never been more apparent.

VKC faculty and staff spent much of the year working to better address racial inequities within our own walls. We partnered with the Vanderbilt University Office of Inclusion and Health Equity in our efforts. In 2021, those activities will continue. As an example, in an April VKC lecture, we will welcome Jonathan Jackson, who will share his work on midlife and late-life health disparities in clinical settings that affect underserved populations in an effort to encourage our community to work with more inclusive research participant cohorts. I share with great pride all the strength, resilience, and innovation I have witnessed as the VKC moves new priorities and agendas into the New Year.

With your help, in 2020, we successfully secured five-year renewals of both our Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) and our University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). This federal funding will take us into to 2025, which will mark our 60th anniversary. That’s 60 years of research, training, and services that are impacting Tennesseans with disabilities and their families.

We cannot do this work alone. Our collaborations and partnerships both at Vanderbilt and beyond are integral to our impact and success. The individuals and families who participate in VKC research projects are helping future generations of individuals who will benefit from what we learn together. Our state and national network partners bring knowledge and strengths to VKC projects. Our faculty, staff, and trainees exhibit commitment and creativity that is changing how we understand the effects and treatments of intellectual and developmental disabilities. And donors who generously give to support that innovation are contributing to almost 60 years of efforts.

Finally, the recent news of FDA-approved vaccines is a welcome and much-anticipated reality. It is a reminder that we have collective hope and that we are in this together. May 2021 be a year filled with hope and healing. May it be a year in which we all take the hard lessons learned over the last year and turn them into reform, justice, and expanded knowledge, services, and systems that support people with disabilities and their families.

Happy New year, all. And thank you for your continued support of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center.

Jeffrey Neul, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

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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.