Announcements

Home is Where the Care Is

How the Sonoran Center Medical Home Project is Helping People with I/DD Feel at Home in Healthcare

By Drew Milne

Home is more than a place where someone lives. Home can be somewhere — or even someone — that lets us feel relaxed, accepted, and at ease.

The Medical Home Project is providing a place for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to feel at home in the healthcare system. Rather than a place where someone lives, the Sonoran Center’s Medical Home Project is a program that connects people with I/DD to physicians who are specially trained to address their needs. This includes appointments in the clinic and home visits.

Dr. Tamsen Bassford, the program’s director, explains: “People with intellectual disabilities or communication differences may have barriers to getting care that’s appropriate for them: care that is both informed by knowledge of their disability, but is also not going to be overly focused on the disability and ignore the entire personhood.”

Other aspects of an individual’s care are addressed, such as a healthy lifestyle, diet, exercise, and sexuality, says Dr. Bassford. The Medical Home Project provides case management support, focuses on accessibility, and uses best practices for care of adults with developmental disabilities.

The complexities of the healthcare system can make it difficult to navigate for people with I/DD. This can lead to worse health outcomes, as these patients may miss routine appointments.

“Much of this difference in health outcomes lies in the area of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease — things that are problems for people without disabilities, but that folks with I/DD suffer from at higher rates,” Dr. Bassford says. “Some of this is due to lower rates of screening examinations. Some of this is due to difficulties in accessing care.”

The Medical Home Project aims to simplify this process.          

Another obstacle for people with I/DD in the healthcare system can, unfortunately, be doctors’ lack of confidence in providing treatment.  

 “A lot of physicians aren’t comfortable seeing people with I/DD or aren’t confident that they’re able to provide good care,” says Dr. Bassford “A recent study on attitudes among U.S. physicians uncovered that a little over half felt that they couldn’t offer the care that they wanted to offer to people with disabilities.”

This is part of what makes the Medical Home Project’s commitment to providing top-quality, disability-informed care so valuable.

The impact of the Medical Home Project is plain to see in the numbers as well.

Patients who participate in the program have significantly higher rates of preventative visits and checkups.

“We found that [our participants] had higher accessibility to… seeing a doctor to discuss or prevent a problem,” says Dr. Bassford. “We [also] reduced the number of visits for surgeries and diagnostic procedures, suggesting that improved access to cognitive visits reduced the need for emergency room visits and other diagnostic or surgical procedures.”

Not only does this provide better care for the patients who need it, it is also beneficial from a financial perspective.

According to Dr. Bassford: “This actually saved the payers [insurance companies] money, which is important when you think about whether this is a project that could be sustainable. It could be sustainable, if payers felt like they could save money by investing in case management fees for people with certain diagnoses.”

Another clear positive impact of the program is encouraging vaccinations among people with I/DD. People with I/DD may miss their vaccinations for several reasons, from difficulty scheduling an appointment to lack of knowledge of vaccine efficacy and safety. The Medical Home Project has demonstrated a sizable increase in the rate of vaccinations among its participants.

“Our influenza vaccine rate, for example, is very high, because we do outreach every year to help them make appointments to get their influenza vaccines,” Dr. Bassford says. “During the COVID-19 crisis, we kept our patients up to date with mailings about COVID vaccines and basic COVID safety measures.”

Dr. Bassford hopes the success of the Medical Home Project will encourage both the expansion of the current program, and the creation of similar programs in the future.

“One thing we’re trying to do is to model a program that will be more easily disseminated to a broad range of primary care practices — not just university practices, but community health centers and other primary care practices,” she says.

Looking beyond the immediate scope of the Medical Home Project, Dr. Bassford says that the lessons she and her colleagues have learned from the program will inform them in all their practices going forward.

“One of the things that you learn is that your patients are incredible sources of information on their own lives and things they’ve discovered to be helpful. Learn from your patients,” Says Dr. Bassford.  

Learn more about by contacting Case Manager Jeremy Schultz at 520-874-6459.  

Sonoran Center Leads National Transition to Employment Trainings

Dr. Wendy Parent Johnson - A smiling white woman with medium length light brown hair. Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities Executive Director Wendy Parent-Johnson is a featured speaker in a national webcast series focused on Transition to Employment. 

Hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the Transition to Employment webinar series, is co-presented with Richard Parent -Johnson, an adjunct professor with the University of Kansas. 

The series dives deep into topics about youth-to-adult transition and employment. Viewers who watch the archived webcasts will receive one credit toward earning their Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) Certification. 

Viewers can watch the archived webcasts to earn one credit toward their Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) Certification.

Employment AHEAD: Giving Youth Space to Lead Collaborative Relationships: Promoting Transition Capable Youth

Topics Discussed:

  • Planning secondary vocational programming
  • Developing supported leadership and goal-setting opportunities
  • Elevating employment expectations
  • Implementing Work-Based Learning experiences (preETS)
  • Incorporating employment into the transition process

Topics Discussed:

  • Key Lessons: Total Impact + Holistic Approach + Capable, I AM
  • Establishing a Collective Impact Team
  • Models of Holistic, Collaborative Relationships
  • Emerging Adults as a Team MEMBER
  • Content and Practice that generates “Capability”

A third training called Career Outcomes: Taking Action Together is scheduled for Thursday, April 28 at 11 a.m. (AZ) / 2 p.m. (EST). In this webcast, Dr. Parent-Johnson willl cover: 

  • Understanding community employment services
  • Engaging adult service agencies 
  • Sharing relevant work preference and support information 
  • Implementing steps leading to employment outcomes 
  • Data collection, follow-up and success stories 

More information about this webinar series can be found on the Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities website

Gabe Martinez Appointed to President Biden's Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities

Gabe Martinez - A smiling man wearing glasses and a striped U of A shirt with short hair sitting at a desk.

Gabriel Martinez will serve a two-year term on the committee that provides advice and assistance to the president and the secretary of Health and Human Services on a broad range of topics that impact people with intellectual disabilities.

Gabriel “Gabe” Martinez, project aide and peer navigator in the University of Arizona Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities, was recently appointed to the President’s Committee For People with Intellectual Disabilities by President Joe Biden.

Gabe Martinez is a project aide and peer navigator in the Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities.Martinez’s work at the Sonoran Center is focused on helping people with disabilities become self-advocates in all aspects of life. The center, which is housed within the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, works closely with university, state and local disability agencies and community groups to ensure individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the supports they need to participate fully in their community.

“We are all excited for Gabe’s appointment,” said Wendy Parent-Johnson, PhD, executive director of the Sonoran Center. “He has time and again demonstrated his leadership as a role model for youth and as an advocate for disability inclusion in local community organizations. Arizona’s disability community is lucky to have Gabe as its representative on this national platform.”

Martinez graduated from the Sonoran Center’s Project SEARCH, an employment preparation program, in 2016 and joined the center two years ago. He talks to youth and young adults with disabilities about employment and is a guest lecturer in the College of Medicine – Tucson.

“I’m excited to represent Arizona’s disability community,” Martinez said. “It is a great opportunity for me because I have always wanted to make a big, positive impact on people with disabilities.”

Sonoran Center visitors can expect a kind greeting and welcome from Martinez, who sits at the front desk. Co-workers often stop by his desk to chat and discuss project ideas.

“Gabe takes his advocacy and leadership role seriously and is always willing to put in the hard work to help us meet challenges,” said Kimberly Rogan, Martinez’s supervisor and a senior program coordinator in the Sonoran Center. “He is a consistently friendly and helpful team member. I can’t think of anyone better to serve on this important committee.”

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson established the President’s Committee For People with Intellectual Disabilities in 1966 to advise the president and the secretary of Health and Human Services on matters that impact the disability community. The committee works to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities, upholding full citizenship rights, independence, self-determination and lifelong participation within the broader community.

Between 7 and 8 million Americans, or 3% of the general population, experience intellectual disabilities, according to the Administration for Community Living. Nearly 1 in 10 families in the U.S. are directly affected by a person with intellectual disabilities at some point in their lifetimes.

 

Native Youth Guide ‘Finds Their Way’ Community Collaborative

Native youth from across Arizona shared personal stories about overcoming challenges as a person with an intellectual or developmental disability during the first meeting of the Cross-Cultural Tribal Community Collaborative. The youth found peer-to-peer support through the Arizona Youth Leadership Forum, a program of Diverse Ability Incorporated. 

The Finds Their Way: Communities for Youth Transitions project is underway within the Native Center for Disabilities.

In March, project leaders led the first meeting of a diverse group of Native, state and community partners known as the Cross-Cultural Tribal Community Collaborative. Together with the Sonoran Center, the Community Collaborative will share their expertise and knowledge to implement systems change that improve employment experiences and outcomes for Native youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities

In a recent Arizona study1, only 18 percent of school and employment services staff who work with students with intellectual and developmental disabilities reported their students experience employment or post-secondary education as typical outcomes following graduation.

“Transitional services for Native American youth are an essential resource and support to help with planning their future after high school,” says Treva Roanhorse, a consultant for the Native Center for Disabilities and former executive director for Navajo Nation Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services.

The first meeting of the Community Collaborative also served as a platform for Native youth to share their stories in a traditional Talking Circle. One participant spoke about peer-to-peer based training and support. He had dropped out of school because of bullying related to his disability. But because of the support system he found through the peer-to-peer program called the Arizona Youth Leadership Forum, he returned to school and graduated at the top of his class.

Listening to Native youth stories help frame and provide context for the project moving forward. It also helps broaden perspectives about different approaches to supporting and empowering Native youth as they think about their future and how employment can fit as a goal in their life.

As a host of the 2nd Annual American Indian Youth Disability Summit, project leaders will conduct another Talking Circle with youth, community members and professionals from across Arizona.   

The Finds Their Way project was developed in collaboration and with support from nearly 30 tribal, state and community partners, and is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living.

Both the Finds Their Way project and the American Indian Youth Disability Summit are administered by the Native Center for Disability within the Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities.

Read more about the Native Center and the Finds Their Way project.

1. Duncan, A., De La Rosa, J., & Parent- Johnson, W. (2021). State of the State Report: Post School Transition in Arizona. Tucson, AZ: Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities, University of Arizona.

Community Survey

The UnTold Stories: Sexual Abuse and Violence Against Persons with Disabilities project is interested in hearing your concerns and suggestions about how to address sexual violence and trauma.

We want to hear from:

  • Family members, significant others
  • Direct care staff, disability professionals educators, advocates
  • Health care providers, first responders, trauma specialists, behavioral health providers

Tell us your ideas or experiences about unwanted sexual contact or attention, assault, or violence against people with disabilities here (external link).

Art on the Go

By Drew Milne

ArtWorks is bringing the work of its talented artists out of the studio and into the community with a new pop-up art sale.

Located in front of the ArtWorks building, the pop-up art sale will raise funds for the program to buy new art supplies and give the UArizona community a chance to casually chat and get to know the artists behind the artwork.

“The pop up art show started because the weather is beautiful and we can be outside. Due to COVID, we couldn’t have indoor gatherings, so we were exploring ways to present their art pieces to the public,” says ArtWorks Director Dr. Yumi Shirai. “We wanted to take advantage of the foot traffic from Highland Garage to BIO5 and the main campus.”

The pop-up art show is unique among ArtWorks projects. While previous ArtWorks exhibits centered around a specific theme and were planned months in advance, the pop-up show displays the results of weekly Zoom sessions with the artists, and covers a wide range of ideas. 

Read more

“Our weekly themes for the art classes shift based on the artist’s interests and seasonal celebrations. Recently, we had arts related to the holidays – Christmas and others,” Dr. Shirai says.

The types of pieces being sold include postcard-sized drawings, paintings, collages, and Christmas ornaments.

In addition to raising funds for art supplies, the project hopes to bring artists and the wider community together in a fun, casual setting.

“[The artists] like to sit in the sun and talk to neighbors. They are pretty good at chit-chatting and socializing, so they are hte best promoters of their own work,” says Dr. Shirai.

The pop-up art show takes place from 9 to 11 a.m. on Fridays as weather permits.

“When it’s too hot, we’ll close it up,” Dr. Shirai says.

Meet Me Where You Are

By Drew Milne

A new elective course for UArizona medical students is addressing gaps in care for adults with disabilities in the medical office and the community.

The two-week elective, titled “Care of Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities” is taught by Dr. Tammie Bassford, a Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities staff member who directs the Primary Care of Adults with Intellectual Developmental Disabilities program at two Banner Tucson Family Medicine Residency Clinics.

The course involves students visiting patients in the clinic and in their homes, and gives unique insight into how those in the healthcare profession can improve patients’ lives.

Read more
 Home visits with patients are a highlight of the class.

“The opportunity to interact with people with disabilities in their community and daily lives is very special, and it gives you a sense of empathy and compassion that’s harder to achieve if you only see people in the clinic world,” says Radu Modha, a UArizona student currently applying for a residency in family medicine.

The home visits not only build deeper connections with patients, but allow healthcare providers to address practical concerns as well.

“You’re able to go to someone’s home, their environment, and be concerned with things like, ‘Is your stove functioning? Is your diet balanced enough? Are you able to go out and exercise?’ Those are things that sometimes fly under the radar for us as healthcare providers,” Modha says.

Although this intensive level of care is beneficial for patient and healthcare provider, it can be difficult to establish this kind of connection with every patient. Thankfully, the course also gets students in touch with community organizations that can help fill these gaps.

“One of the things that’s different from any course or elective I’ve ever taken in medical school is how many community organizations [the course] put me in touch with,” says Layne Jordan, a senior psychiatry student. “It kind of drove home…how important it is that we orient ourselves with what resources are available for patients. Because you can hope that they find it on their own, but there’s a good chance that a lot of people will never find those services.”

Tammie Bassford: A smiling white woman wearing glasses with light blonde hair. A cactus plant is in the foreground.Dr. Bassford designed the course with the intention of filling the gaps in medical curricula regarding disability medicine, particularly about patients with developmental disabilities.

“Once you’re in residency, you may not get as much of a chance to go out into the community in that way,” says Dr. Bassford. “This might be [the students’] last opportunity to work with other parts of the community that a person with disabilities might find themselves interacting with, like jobs, decision-making and guardianship.”

All these experiences shed light on an overlooked problem: the shortage of disability-focused care in the healthcare system.

“I learned how not all offices have wheelchair accessible ramps or sidewalks or examination tables that are accommodating of people with disabilities,” Modha says. “Learning that these problems exist in some settings kind of clued me in on what I should make sure happens when I’m practicing.”

The students agreed that Dr. Bassford plays important a role in making the course a success.

“Dr. Bassford is such an incredible role model for learning how to identify gaps and see people who are being left behind,” Jordan says. “She’s an incredible example of taking the initiative - if you see a gap, fill it. Do the best you can.

11th Annual African American Conference on Disabilities

Keeping it Real: Addressing Race, Gender and Disability Issues within the Deaf Community
Carolyn McCaskill, Ph.D., Professor, Gallaudet University Department of Deaf Studies, Director of the Center for Black Deaf Studies

It is never easy to discuss racism or any form of oppression issues. However, they exist within our community as well as the Deaf community, and we must acknowledge it.  This presentation will discuss racism, gender, and disability issues within the Deaf community.

Dr. McCaskill shares her personal experience to illustrate the problems faced within the Deaf community and highlights the intersectionality within the Deaf community – how race, class, gender, and disability connect and lead to discrimination.

Help Us Address Sexual Violence Against Persons with I/DD

The University of Arizona Sonoran Center for Excellence in Disabilities is asking for your help with a research project about sexual violence against persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) or autism. The project is called Untold Stories and it has two parts. 
 

Part one involves confidential and private interviews with adults 18 years and older. Participants will receive a gift card for their time. Dr. Lynne Tomasa and her team are scheduling interviews with:

1.  Individuals with I/DD or autism who experienced unwanted sexual contact or behaviors 
2.  Family caregivers or persons who play an important role in the life of someone with I/DD or Autism who experienced unwanted sexual contact

Part two is an anonymous community survey for family members, direct care staff, disability professionals, educators, advocates, health care providers, first responders and behavioral health providers. The survey is available at https://uarizona.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_et9FIWxtCCP8AhE

We encourage you to participate or share our information. Together we can help prevent future sexual violence against people with I/DD or autism. We need to hear your stories and concerns to address this important issue.

FLYER FOR INTERVIEWS WITH 
PERSONS WITH I/DD OR AUTISM

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FLYER FOR CAREGIVERS OF 
PERSONS WITH I/DD OR AUTISM

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You can schedule an interview by contacting Lynne Tomasa at ltomasa@arizona.edu or Vanessa Zuber at vanessalzuber@email.arizona.edu

COMMUNITY SURVEY
FLYER

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This project has been reviewed and approved by the University of Arizona Institutional Review Board (IRB).

The project is funded by the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (ADDPC) to conduct research into the ongoing crisis of sexual abuse and violence against individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and autism (I/DD/A). 

Connections for the Future

Sonoran UCEDD and UArizona Students Help High Schoolers with Disabilities Build Resumes in October Workshop
By Drew Milne 

In recognition of October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), the Sonoran Center partnered with the UA Allies Club to host a resume building and mock interview workshop with Intermountain Academy students with disabilities. 

NDEAM commemorates the contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy and reflects the importance of ensuring they have full access to employment and community involvement. 

Read more. 

Acts of Love and Community

Art Exhibit Collaboration brings University students and disability community together 

By Drew Milne  

A University of Arizona School of Art and ArtWorks collaboration is addressing social isolation caused by the pandemic through the creation of an art exhibition.  

Assistant Professor of Art and Digital Culture Education Carissa DiCindio and ArtWorks Director Yumi Shirai virtually connected UArizona students with the disability community ArtWorks serves. The project’s goal is to reduce isolation by hosting a creative community and help University students learn how to make art museum exhibition space more accessible. 

Read more. 

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

Read more

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."

Staff Profile: Heather Wolff

In this month’s UCEDD Staff Profile, we sit down with Employment Specialist Heather Wolff. We discuss her background, her work at the Sonoran Center, and how to improve the lives of people with disabilities from the individual level all the way up to systemic change.

In brief, can you introduce yourself and describe what you do at the UCEDD?

A little bit about me: I’m originally from Ohio, and I moved out to Arizona after college. I went to a small liberal arts school and majored in history and anthropology. I always wanted to work with a nonprofit.

My official title is Statewide Provider for Project SEARCH. What I do is I work with Project SEARCH sites, helping develop new sites and providing technical assistance to the current sites. I also work a lot with Employment First.

That's an initiative and belief that employment should be the first option for everyone, whether you have a disability or not. With the right supports in place, and the right job match using that person’s strengths, anyone can be employable.

What does your work look like on a more day to day basis?

I'm involved in a lot of meetings, I work on a lot of projects, and I do research for needs assessments and grants. It's a little bit of everything. I like that because it keeps my job interesting. I do a lot of trainings and webinars for people to try to implement Employment First in this state. I'm trying to really make sure everyone knows what Employment First is.

Can you talk about some of the projects that you're working on right now?

With Employment First I'm working with work groups. Work groups are focused on getting policy and legislation signed. We have a work group for transition to employment; that's both with youth and school, and providers transitioning people with disabilities out of group supported employment setting into competitive integrated employment. We also have a communications workgroup and a data workgroup to try to develop a system where we can collect data on employment for people with disabilities in Arizona. Right now, some of the some of the ways that this system is built creates more barriers than opportunities. Trying to eliminate those barriers is really the goal of what I'm doing with Employment First.

I'm also doing a job coach training: working with providers, educators, locational rehabilitation counselors, and support coordinators. Through that, we're joining something called a provider transformation. We're trying to get employment providers away from sheltered workshop group-supported employment and towards real, competitive wages and benefits.

I also do a little bit with Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) and transition and workplace learning. That's through Project SEARCH. Project SEARCHis a transition model that takes place over a whole year, usually the last year of a student’s high school. They're completely immersed in the business, learning transferable, marketable, and reliable skills. Project SEARCH is a big part of my time.

Pivoting from the what to the why of what you do, can you talk about what you like most about your work?

I came from a provider perspective. I was a job coach for almost a decade in Savannah GA, and I just loved the work that I did. I loved learning about job development and how businesses work, and creating those opportunities for the people that I served. Now, with the Sonoran Center, I feel passionate about what I do because I see such a need for employment services for people with disabilities. I love what I do because I feel like it's moving to create equal opportunities for everyone.

I'm glad to hear that. Are there any stories or memorable events from your work that have resonated with you?

Here's something I loved to do: This past October, for National Disability Employment Awareness month, we partnered with the Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and STARS, a provider in Scottsdale. We showcased real individuals working in employment. I got to go out, do those success stories, and connect with people, and that filled my heart up.

Do you have any advice for someone who is considering going into your field?

You would need to be flexible. You have to be adaptable and really think outside of the box and be creative when it comes to employment for people with disabilities. One of my favorite quotes that I use in all my trainings is, “You can't judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.” If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, then it will fail. If we silo all these people and put them in boxes of what they can't do, then no one's going to succeed. When you start to focus on strengths, gifts, and abilities, that's when people succeed. That’s what I've learned from a lot of the people that I've worked with: If there is a ceiling set with job tasks—like their employer’s only allowing them to do this, this, and this—once they reach that ceiling, they're going to break it. People break all barriers and expectations that others have. Be open to surprises.

Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you want to let people know about the UCEDD, or about the work that you do, or even about yourself?

I love working for the Sonoran Center. I love the different aspects of direct service, research, all the different avenues that a University Center for Excellence in Disabilities can explore. Everything works together.