Staff Profile: Kelsey Montano

By Drew Milne 

In brief, describe what you do at the Sonoran UCEDD. 

Kelsey Montano: I work with students with disabilities, help them get job readiness skills, and then put their skills to work.

What is your role, specifically?

KM: I’m a vocational specialist. My role is working with schools and employers, networking, and finding those job sites, so that students can put the skills that they’ve learned into a real work setting.

Who do you work with in the community?

KM: We work with the students and their job coaches, and from there we work with employers at the job sites.

What does this look like on a day to day basis?

KM: Day to day it varies based on how many students we have, how many students are placed out in the community, and how many are still in the school setting. Creating jobs on campus is another element of our job. That might mean we’re on school campuses working with them ongaining positions at a school store, food service, custodial work, or office work.

Why is your work important?

KM: The results are the important piece for me. I like to see the growth from the students. I like tosee the change and impact that our service has with each individual. Something to remember is that each situation is individualized, and with that it’s important to be open-minded

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So you can’t use the same approach for every situation.

KM: Absolutely. An example of that is we had a few students placed at a hardware store. They were doing the same task - stocking. One student was looking at the pictures of the items so theycould match them appropriately, and another student was matching the bar codes. Understand that someone may need more or fewer supports, but they’re still getting the same task done.

What do you like most about your work?

KM: I think that ties back into the growth. I like to see from start-to-finish what the students arecapable of. Sometimes even the student doesn’t recognize that they have those abilities, and putting them out into the community where they can get the job done is a reward in itself. Then they gain the confidence to keep pushing through or gain new confidence to help them learn a different task altogether. It’s very rewarding.

What inspired you to start doing the work that you do?

KM: I’ve always worked with students, and I’ve worked with this population for a few years now. Coming from an educational setting, it’s very nice to be on the other side and see it all tie together. I haven’t been introduced to a program as effective as Sonoran UCEDD, so it’s positive seeing first hand the results of what can happen with a vocational specialist, transition specialist, and a supportive team working with the students and educators.

Do you have any stories from your work that have particularly resonated withyou?

KM: We paired a new student at one of our job sites over the summer, and the employers were kind of hesitant to have students come in, understanding that a few of them might have a disability. In this case they were open and accepting of us coming in, and by the end of the summer session they missed these guys. They were actively asking how these students were doing. They wanted to know if the students were going to come back and do some more work. Aside from that, we had a student who was employed at a dream job of his. He worked there for the summer and he worked hard, he made relationships not just with the employers but with the regular customers, and he just started his first day of work as a paid employee.

Is there something about your work that people might not expect?

KM: A lot of these job readiness skills come naturally for us. We don’t usually think twice about howto put something up when we stock an item or put an item away. For these students, they justneed a little extra support. So it’s the same tasks you and I do on a day-to-day basis, they just need it to be more individualized and more focused. Whether that’s attaching a visual aid or aprompter to better assist them - they’re still capable of getting the job done.

Do you have any advice for people who may be interested in working in your field?

KM: A lot of this is based on observation, so just be present and enjoy the process. Help them understand that while sometimes there will be things at work that we don’t enjoy, a lot of it should be something that we enjoy. So if they’re put in a job site that they don’t enjoy, that’s a good indicator for us that this placement might not be the right fit for them. So ask “What is it about this job that you do enjoy? What is something that you took away that you still liked, and what are the things that you don’t like”. So it’s finding that drive and finding what motivates them.

In the course of your work, have you learned something that has stuck with you?

KM:  I learn something every day. I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had is that there’s not just one way to solve a problem, and to be open-minded about that.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about what you do?

KM: Overall it’s really important for me to let others know that everyone is capable of work. Everybody deserves a chance to work and to be employable. If we can help one person, that’s a reward in itself.

"Getting vaccinated helps the world. It helps everyone" - Gabriel Martinez

Even if you've had COVID-19, it is still recommended that you receive a vaccination.

According to a study cited by the CDC, vaccines are very effective in preventing re-infection1.

Gabriel Martinez got his vaccine after recovering from his infection with COVID-19. He says the side effects of the vaccine are mild compared to the symptoms of COVID.

"One of my [COVID] tests was positive. I was in the hospital for almost a month. My blood pressure went up, and I couldn't taste anything. It was very hard to breathe. I used an air machine. I couldn't get my legs under me - I was in a wheelchair."

Thankfully, Gabe recovered. After quarantining, he was able to get the vaccine and return to work shortly afterwards. 

"The side effects [of the vaccine] were joint pain, aching, and headache". Gabe encourages people to get vaccinated, both for themselves and for their communities.

"You'll feel better. Lighter."

Annual Report 2021

The UArizona Sonoran UCEDD has been working in partnership with Arizonans experiencing disability for more than 15 years. We reached more than 68,840 individuals through outreach, community education, model programs and information dissemination, and created meaningful changes in lives and systems. During this year, we leveraged 31 grants, contracts and other funds totaling $2,653,525 to support and expand our work. 


9,472 attendees of continuing education

3,239 attendees of community trainings

826 recipients of technical assistance

29 trainings provided



233 participants in clinical service programs

393 participants in model service programs


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47,429 visits to websites

3,181 followers on social media

2,361 views on Youtube

 7 toolkits, pamphlets, brochures and factsheets


972 students taught 

21 medical residents trained

17 trainees engaged in interdisciplinary training programs

5 disability related courses taught


29 local, national and international conference presentations

15 studies conducted 

14 peer-reviewed articles, reports and book chapter published 




71 virtual events and trainings

20 youth in virtual employment 



Staff Profile: A Conversation With Lorie Sandaine

August 27, 2021

By Drew Milne

At the Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities, we believe that everyone, with the proper support and guidance, can thrive doing work that they love. In this discussion with Project Coordinator Lorie Sandaine, she explains how she witnesses this all the time in her work, and also shares some of the valuable lessons she’s learned from the people she’s worked with.

Question: In brief, describe what you do at the Sonoran UCEDD.

Lorie Sandaine - A smiling Asian woman with long hair sitting in a field of tall grass. Lorie Sandaine: I’m part of a project called Career Pathways for Arizona’s Future. It’s also the Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) Project. It is a model development project involving the Sonoran UCEDD and Vocational Rehabilitation developing and implementing work based learning experiences throughout the state. Work based learning experiences are an educational approach that uses community employers to provide students with knowledge and skills through real life work activities.


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Q: Who do you work with in the community?

LS: Students with a disability between the ages of 14 and 22 who are involved in some kind of schooling - vocational, community college, high school. They just have to be potentially eligible for vocational rehabilitation. You’ll find in our world that there are lots of definitions of disability - so it’s really just  about if they have a broad version of a disability, because we want to work with anyone who has any kind of diagnosis: substance use, mental health, developmental, or learning disability. It’s a really broad definition of who we can serve. One thing I love about Pre Employment Transition Services is that it’s free. I hope students with disabilities will participate in Pre-ETS - because it’s free, it’s available, and it’s not hard to become eligible for it.

Q: What does this look like on a day to day basis?

LS: One of things I love about supported employment - working with students with disabilities and schools and employers - is that every day is different. So when you ask me what a typical day is, I’d probably say that it’s building relationships and cultivating partnerships with schools, employers, students - the people that we serve. On a more practical level, it’s meetings [laughs], but it’s meetings about building relationships, and also overseeing the direct services of the work that we do. We have staff here of amazing vocational specialists: they’re the ones working in the field, working with the students at the employer, making sure that we’re providing the best services, and tracking what’s working and what’s not working. When you’re doing model development, you have to track what’s working and what’s not working. The littlest things are important. The little things add up to big things.

Q: So there’s some trial and error involved?

LS: Yes, that’s the case with every student we work with. Every student is an individual and what works with some doesn’t work for others. Another thing I love about this work is that we have a process in place, but it always looks different for everybody. Each individual has different strengths. Each individual needs different supports to help recognize what those strengths are, and how we amplify those strengths. Some people would want the same thing everyday - I like how it’s different every day. I like how I work with different people with different abilities every day. I like that I see people for who they are as individuals versus, let’s say, diagnosis or occupation. I love to see people realize that they are capable of working.

Q: Why is your work important?

LS: I think it’s important because we’re helping students realize and set the expectation of work, but more than that, recognizing that they have the capability to work and offer an employer something; because I think a lot of the time students are in systems that maybe are looking at what they can’t do and how to mitigate those barriers instead of looking at it from a different standpoint. Which is how I look at it: I’m interested in your barriers, but I'm more interested in what you can do, what you like, and how it can be a win-win for both you and your employer. Because that’s the perfect fit for job match, right? Employers getting work done that they need done that’s efficient and effective, and that the student is working and loving what they do.

Do you have any stories from your work that have particularly resonated with you?

LS: When I started this in January, I was getting a lot of students who were very capable workers. I went back to the schools and I said, “I want you to give me the students that people -their families, maybe staff at the schools - said they can't work. I want those students.” So I got a student who was nonverbal, was put into the classroom of higher needs, and who needed more support, and I put him to work. And he flourished. He has nonverbal Autism and OCD. We put him in a [position] that helped do the product facing. His need for perfection or having things in order or organized really played into having everything look really nice. So when we think about work, it’s not just about completing tasks; it’s about the other things like learning to self-advocate, make decisions, learning to communicate. If you’re nonverbal, how do you communicate and recognize that’s something you desire and are interested in - and work does that. It’s not just about learning the task, it’s about learning the other things about yourself: what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at, recognizing those things, and learning to do those and feeling good about yourself.

Q: Is there something about your work that people might not expect?

LS: I think a lot of people think that all I do is work with students, but really a lot of my educating is educating employers and families. Because a lot of families are scared and nervous about the person going to work. A lot of employers have never worked with a person with disabilities, so I think that’s maybe something that’s a surprise to people.

Q: In the course of your work, have you learned something that has stuck with you? Have the people you’ve worked with taught you something?

LS: So much. I think the reason I love it and am so passionate is because I’m always learning. I mentioned in the beginning that my job is about relationships, observing and listening, and that’s exactly it: if I sit back and listen to what they’re saying, it’s an opportunity for me to be so impressed with their abilities, their motivation and desire for work, or even just to make a contribution and feel heard. We all want to be seen and heard - that’s what the people I work with teach me. Seeing their heart and who they are. What they CAN do.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about what you do?

LS: I want people to know that everyone can work. I believe that we can set that expectation, whatever that looks like for them, in a competitive and integrated way, with all of us alongside working with the right supports. 

Summer Work Program Students Gain Full Employment

August 3, 2021 

Two students in the Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities Summer Work Program have found permanent, competitive and integrated employment within their job placements.  

Adam Alghaith and Johnny Moreno will stay on at Golf n’ Stuff and Surf Thru Car Wash, respectively, immediately after their Summer Work Program internship ends.  

The Summer Work Program began in June with 37 students placed in different jobs in Tucson and Phoenix. In addition to learning valuable skills, students are paid at the prevailing wage of their role. Students in the program are also contributing to the development of a model state agencies can follow in their efforts to better support and prepare individuals with disabilities in finding and keeping employment.  


Valerie Alghaith, Adam’s mother, was so pleased by the program and the work of Sonoran UCEDD staff.   

“As a parent wondering about how their special needs son is doing at work, I could message Lorie (Sandaine) or any of the managers at Golf n’ Stuff and get an answer right away,” Valerie says.  

Sandaine is a project coordinator with the Sonoran UCEDD and acted as a job coach for Adam.   


Summer Work Program Underway!

June 22, 2021

The Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities Summer Work Program is in full swing with 37 students placed in different jobs in Tucson and Phoenix.

The new summer employment opportunity provides students with summer employment in a real work environment within their community and integrated in the workplace.

In addition to learning valuable skills, students are paid at the prevailing wage of their role. Currently, there are 21 students participating in Tucson and 16 students participating in Phoenix. 

“The participants are contributing to systems change in Arizona through development of a model that assists state agencies with better supporting and preparing individuals with disabilities with the skills and experiences that will contribute to the Arizona workforce and improve the high unemployment rates and corresponding poverty of this large segment of the population,” says Wendy Parent-Johnson, executive director of the Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

Gage - A young man with short hair in a wheelchair tending to some plants. Some of the business providing the work opportunities are: Golf n’ Stuff, Ace Hardware, Plato’s Closet, Civano Nursery, and the Arc of Arizona. 

The Work-Based Learning Experience and Summer Work Program are funded by the Arizona Department of Economic Security - Rehabilitation Services Administration.

To learn more about the Summer Work Program, please contact Lorie Sandaine at

Creating a Culture of Safety  

May 26, 2021

Sonoran UCEDD Affiliated Faculty Participates in Panel Discussion about Sexual Abuse Prevention in Schools 

Sonoran UCEDD Affiliated Faculty Jamie Edgin participated in two panel discussions about preventing sexual abuse of students with disabilities.  

The panel discussions, It's Really About Safety: Preventing Sexual Abuse in Arizona Schools, were held in response to Governor Doug Ducey’s veto of a sex education bill and based on findings from a recent report called Preventing Sexual Abuse in Arizona Schools: Suggested Protocols for Students with Intellectual, Developmental and Other Disabilities.  

Jamie Edgin - A photo of a smiling white woman with medium length brown hair. Edgin, who has 20 years of research experience within the disability field, serves on the Arizona Response to Sexual Violence & Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities Collaborative that published the report.  

Among the recommendations for preventing sexual abuse in schools is accessible and inclusive lessons on sexual health and relationships.  

Research finds that young adults with mild to moderate cognitive disability are sexually active at similar rates to their peers without a disability, yet are less likely to learn about sexual health from trusted adults. Receiving ineffective or inaccessible sex education, or no sex education at all, has also been found to be a correlating factor in the sexual abuse of youth with disabilities. 

Another approach to prevention is limiting instances of one-on-one contact between a student and a staff member. This can mean having two staff members addressing an individual students’ needs, limiting the amount of time a student is a with a staff member, and propping open a door to minimize abusive contact.  

“Systems change needs to happen,” Edgin says. “And it should come from a collaborative effort between parents, teachers, schools and administrators to create a culture of safety that doesn’t put these students into potentially dangerous situations.”  

The report has been shared and Edgin hopes it will serve as guidelines when school districts put their policies in place. The report may also help with writing future legislation.  

The Preventing Sexual Abuse in Arizona Schools: Suggested Protocols for Students with Intellectual, Developmental and Other Disabilities Report can be found on the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council website.  


The Arizona Response to Sexual Violence & Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities Collaborative comprises of members from the Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Commission for the Deaf & the Hard of Hearing, Planned Parenthood of Arizona, Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence, and the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council.  

The Experts in the Room

May 25, 2021

Sonoran UCEDD students train Reid Park Zoo staff on accessibility, inclusion

Screenshot of a Zoom shared screen presentation. Across the top from left to right: Dominique Hughes, Kayla Tilicki, Corrine Winsten and Jacy Farkas have their cameras on to give a presentation called: Accessibility Basics, Universal Design and Engaging with Divers Guests.
From left, University of Arizona students Dominique Hughes, Kayla Tilicki, Corrine Winsten and Sonoran UCEDD Assistant Director Jacy Farkas conduct a training for Reid Park Zoo staff and volunteers. 

Growing up in Tucson, one of Kayla Tilicki’s favorite things to do was visit Reid Park Zoo.

“I always wanted my parents to buy keys for the boxes that you turn on to learn about an animal and hear its sounds,” says Tilicki, a University of Arizona 2021 graduate and Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities certificate program recipient.  

When she was approached to help finish work on a virtual training for Reid Park Zoo that focused on accessibility and inclusion, she jumped at the chance.  

“Hearing that I could work with a group that I engaged with as a child was really exciting to me,” she says.

Alumni Corinne Winsten and Dominique Hughes worked on the project last year as part of their developmental disabilities certificate program and returned to help Tilicki adapt it into a virtual training.

Tilicki, Winsten and Hughes all agreed the opportunity to share and teach others what they learned was a fulfilling experience.

“I’ve learned a lot in my college experience, but I never really saw myself as the expert in the room,” Tilicki says. “So, it was a great opportunity to take the chance. To be that expert and teach other people. It was really empowering.”

Nearly 50 Reid Park Zoo staff, volunteers and docents participated in the virtual training held over Zoom in May. Among the attendees was Molly Koleczek, an education specialist for the Reid Park Zoo, who helped facilitate the training.

“After the training, the staff and volunteers feel more equipped, and have increased confidence and awareness to provide a more welcoming and equitable experience to everyone who comes to the zoo – regardless of ability,” she says.  


Congratulations, Class of 2021!

We wish the graduating members of the 2020-2021 cohort of Sonoran UCEDD Trainees all the best for their hard work and accomplishments over the past year. They faced extraordinary challenges but met them head on.

A graphic that shows Class of 2021 -- Congratulations. It also has portraits of the following people in two rows: Top Row: (Left to Right) Kayla Tilicki, Jordan Gotwalt, Daniel Hernandez, Laasya Vallabhaneni. Second Row (left to right): Leah Guerrero, Mahkyla Howes, Kai Glahn, and Haley Arnold

From left: Kayla Tilicki, Jordan Gotwalt, Daniel Hernandez, Laasya Vallabhaneni, Leah Guerrero, Mahkyla Howes, Kai Glahn, and Haley Arnold


Haley Arnold, Kai Glahn, Jordan Gotwalt, Daniel Hernandez, Mahkyla Howes, Kayla Tilicki, Laasya Vallabhaneni


Leah Guerrero

To see some of what they worked on over the past year, please watch the trainee presentations from the 3rd Annual Trainee Symposium. Our graduating trainees and their peers did a fantastic job.

Congratulations, Class of 2021! We look forward to seeing what you do next.

Virtually Bringing Employers, Students Together 

Work-Based Learning offers students work experience through innovative approaches   

Leveraging technology and employment support best practices, the Sonoran UCEDD’s Work-Based Learning Experience is expanding beyond the Tucson area and into Phoenix.  

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional approaches to employment supports for youth and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) needed to adapt.  

From left, Baboquivari High School Junior David Lavier meets with Sonoran UCEDD Transition Specialist Lorie Sandaine and his supervisor.

Baboquivari High School student David Lavier participates in the Sonoran UCEDD’s Work-Based Learning Experience, a program that places high school students with I/DD at businesses so that they can gain work experience and the confidence that they can work after graduating school.  

Lavier, who resides in Sells, Arizona on the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, is currently interning with an e-commerce business that sells vintage clothes and collectibles in Phoenix. He works five hours a week creating and updating inventory spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel.  

“My Work Based Learning has been fun for me,” Lavier says. “I have learned the importance of keeping things organized and it has been a good learning experience for me.”  

Arizona’s UCEDDs Collaborate, Provide Support for National Events

April 30, 2021

Arizona’s University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) helped support two virtual conferences, the 2021 African American Conference on Disabilities (AACD) and the 17th Annual American Indian Disability Summit.  

Both events were highly successful and attracted interested attendees from across the United States! 

The University of Arizona Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities and Northern Arizona University’s Institute of Human Development worked with conference and summit organizers to implement virtual versions of typically in-person events. 

Both the Sonoran UCEDD and the Institute for Human Development are thrilled to continue to collaborate to support the DD community in Arizona and across the United States.  The COVID-19 pandemic has altered our lives in countless ways, but both Arizona UCEDDs are committed to leveraging new opportunities for wider collaboration and increased support, based on the needs of the DD community.  

We know that our strength comes from our interconnectedness—both with each other and with the people and communities that we support. 

2021 African American Conference on Disabilities 

Congratulations, Yumi Shirai!

Yumi Shirai - An smiling Asian woman with long, dark hair wearing glasses. April 27, 2021

ArtWorks Director Yumi Shirai was a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Research Fund this year. In collaboration with the Creative Arts Interest Network of the American Association of Intellectual and Development Disabilities, ArtWorks is partnering on the project conducting a mixed methodology study on technology use in creative art organizations who support people with IDD.  

Yumi recently shared some thoughts about her upcoming research and why creative expression is so important.  
Q: As an award recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Research Fund, what will your research project be about? 

Yumi: With the funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, we are extending our study with colleagues from the Creative Arts Special Interest Network at the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Michelle Thompson, MS, OTR/L and Tamara Shetron, PhD where I am serving as the chair. This project is titled Role of Technology in Creative Activities of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: Access, Inclusion, Visibility, Connection, and More. 

Spotlight: Gabe Martinez

April 23, 2021

Gabriel Martinez has been a Sonoran UCEDD Program Aide and Peer Mentor since March 2020. In his role, he has been a presenter and a panelist in several webinars and workshops. He currently sits as a board member for the Arizona Center for  Disability Law and serves on the Association of University Centers on Disability Council on Leadership on Advocacy and the Self-Advocacy Solution Coalition.  

Gabe shares some of the work he has done since he began more than a year ago.   

Gabe Martinez - A young adult an wearing glasses shown sitting at a desk in front of a laptop. Being a peer mentor is a great role for me. Some students look up to me as a great person and I help students find jobs on online help them with their interviews, and help them write their resume.  

As a peer mentor, I speak with other young adults to help them find jobs online. I help present to students how to write up a resume and prepare for their interview. I tell them to schedule a time to go in for an interview for that position and tell them to talk about the skills that they have and what new skills they can learn on the job. Keep on finding jobs and don’t give up! If you have task to do, write it on your task list. After you are done with it you can send your task list to your coworkers. If you work hard in your job, you will get your paycheck and be able to open a bank account to have a place to save it or get to it to spend. But first, save all your money and don’t spend it all. Those young adults’ parents say thank you for helping with their son or their daughter. If the parents have any questions for me, I answer right back to them and say thank you for their questions.  

I also work on many different projects and webinars and I am great worker. I go to meetings and I help with my coworkers with webinars, meetings, and projects. If my coworkers have any questions about anything at work, I listen to their updates and put their updates into notes. I’m also a member of the AUCD COLA where I attend meetings every month to talk about different advocacy efforts. One of the things we talked was about doctors and nurses visits and how there needs to be more training and education about disability. Recently, I attended the inaugural Tucson Transportation Talks where they talked about building a transportation network for Tucson. I was there to make sure people with disabilities’ were talked about too. That’s one of my roles at Sonoran UCEDD. I do advocacy. I think people look up to me because they see me advocating for myself and others. 

Pilot Program Addresses Future Action Planning Needs for Youth, Families

April 13, 2021

Transition AHEAD Roundtable project finds and supports decision-making actions that lead to greater independence

Earlier this year, Sonoran UCEDD faculty and staff launched the Transition AHEAD Roundtable, a pilot program for young adults with disabilities to create a personalized transition action plan for greater independence.

The Roundtable is a virtual day-long, one-on-one set of activities designed to engage the young adult and their family with staff from the Sonoran UCEDD and partnering agencies/organizations. Five key areas are addressed: Employment, Healthcare, Education & Training, Relationships and Community, and Independent Living.

The day culminates in a brief Roundtable presentation – led by the young adult – about what they have identified as their strengths, as well as key goals and meaningful supports they want so they can achieve their desired level of independence.

“The overall process is intended to help each emerging adult begin to achieve outcomes that connect to their own lifelong aspirations,” says Dr. Wendy Parent-Johnson, director of the Sonoran UCEDD. “It also helps the adults in their lives identify opportunities and actions they, too, can take to support those aspirations.”

Six Roundtables were conducted virtually in public, charter and tribal schools, and inclusive of bilingual, Native American, non-English speaker, and non-verbal students.

Providing the Best Patient Care for People with Disabilities

March 3, 2021 

Dr. Tammie Bassford - A smiling white woman with short, blonde hair wearing eyeglasses. In the foreground is a cactus plant. Dr. Tammie Bassford, associate professor and Sonoran UCEDD faculty member, led a virtual training event with nearly 300 students from the University of Arizona health sciences to help them understand how to better care for people with disabilities.

Photo: Dr. Tammie Bassford led a training with UArizona health sciences students that focused on providing care for people with disabilities. 

Seventeen people with disabilities from Special Olympics Arizona and the community joined Bassford to share their personal experiences with their own health care to show how the students can better respect and work with patients who have disabilities.

The students from the UArizona Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Public Health watched a pre-recorded scenario of an individual with a disability meet with healthcare professionals and a group home manager as they discussed her health care and wellbeing.

In small groups, the students were tasked with evaluating how the professionals facilitated an environment of universal communication, self-advocacy, self-determination, independence, and person-centeredness for the patient.

To help provide insight into the perspective of the patient, a member of the disability community joined the students. Paavlena Madhivanan was among the individuals who shared her healthcare insights with the students.   

“I connected with Vicky (the patient in the video) because people in my life have talked to my parents and not me,” she says. “It’s not right to be put aside. Doctors should talk to me.”

Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health senior Bekkah Lerman participated in the training and is also an intern with the Center for Transformative Interprofessional Healthcare. She says every health care professional should participate in this kind of training.

“The training can only improve the community we work in and the scope of care we provide for our patients moving forward,” she says.

After graduation, Lerman says she will pursue a master’s degree in nursing and will fall back on what she learned during the training.

“A lot of times within healthcare we think we know everything,” Lerman says. “But after the event I was proven that we don’t know everything and there’s no need to go out of your way to make a patient with disabilities feel as though they are different.”

UArizona is among 18 other institutions across the country chosen by the National Curriculum Initiative in Developmental Medicine to improve the experiences of individuals with disabilities in health care settings and situations.


Diversity Fellows Incorporate Disability Awareness, Resources for TOCC Students

March 1, 2021

Sonoran UCEDD Diversity Fellows Raeshaun Ramon and Jolene Santos have created a universally designed brochure for Tohono O'odham Community College (TOCC) students interested in transferring to the University of Arizona.

The brochure was created as part of a Minority Serving Institution Partnership Grant funded by the Administration on Disabilities to jointly develop a disability information, education and student exchange partnership.

Ramon and Santos worked with TOCC Student Services to incorporate disability awareness and resources for TOCC students interested in transferring to UArizona through resource sharing and joint student engagement events.

The collaboration has also created a stronger partnership between Sonoran UCEDD and TOCC staff to integrate disability resources and information into typical student engagement activities.

With the goal of making the partnership and fellowship sustainable, the Sonoran UCEDD is creating a pipeline of indigenous students as disability advocates in their respective fields through inclusion of TOCC students and those who transfer to UArizona. Ramon and Santos were transfers from TOCC, now in their second year at the university.

Learn more about our TOCC Partnership.

Photo (From left): Sonoran UCEDD Diversity Fellows Jolene Santos and Raeshaun Ramon worked with Tohono O'odham Community College Student Services on a universally designed brochure with information for students interested in transferring to the University of Arizona. 

Sonoran UCEDD Joins National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network Project

February 1, 2021

The Sonoran UCEDD Project I-AADAPT (Identify and Address Alzheimer's and Dementia in Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities through Prevention and Training) is joining the Arizona Center on Aging for ECHO National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network project.

The ECHO National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network project is funded by the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, and led by the ECHO Institute at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

This one-year program, in collaboration with local and national experts, provides training and support to nursing home staff in Arizona on best practices for protecting patients, staff and visitors from COVID-19 infection and spread.

Nationally 15-16.5 percent of nursing home residents are younger than 65 years old, a majority of which are individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Yumi Shirai - A smiling Asian woman wearing glasses with long, dark hair. To ensure appropriate and equitable support are addressed for the unique needs of people with I/DD who are residing in nursing home, Dr. Yumi Shirai will join weekly virtual learning and resource sharing sessions with other content experts from a wide range of clinical and health education fields (infectious disease control, geriatric, palliative care, quality improvement specialist).

Photo: UArizona Sonoran UCEDD Affiliated Faculty member Yumi Shirai will ensure individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are represented in the ECHO National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network project.

Now Available! COVID-19 Vaccine Information in Plain Language

Logo for the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Network The Arizona Developmental Disabilities Network has developed a plain language document about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Please feel free to download and share with friends, family, co-workers and anyone in your network.

The Arizona Developmental Disabilities Network is comprised of the following organizations: Northern Arizona University Institute for Human Development, Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, UArizona Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities, Arizona Center for Disability Law, The Arc of Arizona, and the Native American Disability Law Center.

UCEDD Peer Mentor Joins Arizona Center for Disability Law Board of Directors

We are excited to announce Gabe Martinez, program aide and peer mentor for the Sonoran UCEDD, was appointed to the Arizona Center for Disability (ACDL) Board of Directors. Gabe - A young man wearing glasses sitting at a desk and typing on a laptop.

Since March, Martinez has helped to bring his unique perspective to products, materials and trainings. As a frequent panelist and presenter, Martinez gives young people and people with disabilities the encouragement and vital skills necessary to pursue their goals.    

In his role on the ACDL Board of Directors, Martinez will be responsible for reviewing and voting on ACDL financial expenditures and budget projections throughout the year, making sure that the ACDL content being disseminated is necessary and accessible, and providing overall supervision of ACDL’s Executive Director. 

Additionally, Gabe serves on the ACDL Development Committee, which is responsible for holding events and creating materials to engage current and potential donors. 

"Gabe is an unfailingly positive team member who is always willing to lend a hand," says Kim Rogan, office manager and executive assistant for the Sonoran UCEDD. "We are so incredibly proud of him."

We Need Your Help to Better Understand Transition Services in Arizona!

From left, a young black woman with dark hair, a young white man with dark hair, and a young white woman with blonde hair sit together at a table.

Our Research Team
Dr. Wendy Parent- Johnson, Susan Voirol, Heather Wolff, Austin Duncan and Rachel Rios-Richardson. 

Check List GraphicWhat is this about? 

  • We are studying transition services for students who have disabilities in Arizona.
  • We want to hear from you about what is working, what is challenging, and what supports you need.


Two People conversing graphicHow will this work?

  • We conducted interviews with transition stakeholders around the state.
  • We developed this statewide survey to gather additional, comprehensive input from transition stakeholders across Arizona
  • We will summarize information and share results and recommendations.


A graphic of a tablet computer. Why? 

  • Your small amount of time could make a big difference!
  • Better understanding the state of transition services in Arizona could lead to positive changes for our students and schools.


A graphic of stick figures sharing ideas.Who? 

  • The survey should be taken by anyone who addresses youth in transition across the state: educators, transition specialists, state agency staff, vocational rehabilitation counselors, developmental disabilities support coordinators, community members, agency providers, and independent living centers. 


For more information, please contact Wendy Parent-Johnson ( or Susan Voirol (

Project SEARCH Adds Two New Sites

We are thrilled to announce that Mayo Clinic has teamed with the Paradise Valley school district, and Banner Gateway Medical Center has teamed with Gilbert Public Schools to be the two newest Project SEARCH sites for fall of 2020!

"Mayo Clinic is proud to partner with our community to provide wonderful training and experiences to Project SEARCH interns," says Marcia Edwards, diversity recruitment specialist for Mayo Clinic in Arizona. "Partnering with Paradise Valley Unified School District has allowed us to select from a group of phenomenal students. The UArizona Sonoran UCEDD has been one of our great partners providing support toward the ultimate success of our program. We look forward to seeing the fruits of our labors with Project SEARCH as we learn and grow alongside our interns, broaden our recruiting pool and develop our inclusive culture." 

"Banner Health is excited to partner with Gilbert Public Schools, UArizona Sonoran UCEDD, and Vocational Rehab to bring Project Search to Maricopa County. As the largest healthcare system and employer in Arizona, we are committed to providing our diverse communities with equitable care, as well as opportunities to develop a pipeline of talent. By bringing Project Search to Maricopa County, we have been afforded the opportunity to foster individualized, on the job development for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities that focuses on training in employability and independent living skills. Through this program, we aim to assist in creating opportunities for our Project Search interns to have a successful transition into productive adult life." 

With the newest Project SEARCH sites coming onboard, we celebrate the increase for a total of 8 sites in Arizona. We will continue to reach out to schools and businesses across the state to develop new sites.

Expanding Project SEARCH sites gives students with intellectual or developmental disabilities the opportunity to complete an internship at a business, learn relevant, marketable skills and expand their employment options. Project Search AZ Logo

Project SEARCH Arizona is a transition-to-work program designed to help young people with significant disabilities make successful transitions to productive adult life. In 2018, Arizona interns had an average of 85 percent employment rate compared to the national employment rate of 77 percent.

Learn more about Project SEARCH.

Introducing a New Four-Year Collaborative Project: Career Pathways to Arizona's Future

Career Pathways to Arizona's Future Logo

The Sonoran UCEDD is pleased to announce a new four-year project funded by the Arizona Department of Economic Security, Division of Rehabilitation Services Administration. 

Wendy Parent-Johnson, PhD, director of the Sonoran UCEDD and Susan Voirol, program manager of Employment First and Transition Initiatives, received the multi-year, multi-million dollar for a project focused on improving post-school outcomes and employment rates of high school youth with disabilities.  

This will be done through the delivery of effective Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS).

The project, implemented in collaboration with vocational rehabilitation, schools, and adult service providers across the state, will respond to this need using a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach.

A Statement from the Sonoran UCEDD

The recent tragic murders and continual assault on Black lives has brought to the forefront what Black communities have known and experienced for generations in this country. Racism exists and is pervasive in the policies and practices of our institutions. The justified anger, frustration and pain has led to civil action across the nation and real potential for systemic change.

Together as staff, we reflected on the impact of these events on us personally and in the context of our work. We engaged in difficult conversations about structural racism and our responsibility as a Center to address racial injustice. We see this as an opportunity for us to do better. An opportunity for us to play an active role in creating meaningful and positive change at the individual and systemic level.

We acknowledge that many people with disabilities and their families are confronted with the realities of racism whether in their everyday interactions or their ability to access and receive quality services and supports. Among the disability community, people of color are disproportionately impacted in the criminal justice, education, health and other systems of care. As disability advocates, we recognize that racial justice is also disability justice.  

As an organization, we are committed to amplifying the voices of individuals from marginalized groups. We will tackle racial disparities through our programs and initiatives to impact service delivery practices, policies, and outcomes. We will partner with communities and engage people with lived experience to inform and monitor our work. We will hold ourselves accountable through on-going assessment and community feedback. We will continue to intentionally engage in self-reflection and open, honest discussions as an organization, to address systemic inequities.

We stand with Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other communities of color in the fight for racial equity. We recognize the strengths and resilience of these communities. We are ready to listen, learn and take action together to achieve real change and justice.

In solidarity,
Sonoran UCEDD Staff

Understanding Distance Learning’s Impact on High Needs Students

A young Asian boy looking at a tablet device at a table.

A three-part webinar series is bringing together parents and guardians of high-needs students to share stories of their child’s distance learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal of the series is to provide families with a forum to share their experiences, challenges and successes with distance learning, to ask questions about what comes next, and to hear form Arizona education advocates and leaders about resources and self-advocacy.

Arizona school districts had to transition quickly to distance learning in March after Governor Doug Ducey closed schools through the end of the school year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The transition posed a challenge to educators as to how to deliver education to students and to families who had to facilitate learning at home.

Among the challenges parents and guardians faced were navigating the medley of different communication tools used by schools to conduct learning, limited one-on-one time for individual students, and the one-size fits all approach to teaching which posed challenges for students with high needs.