Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Imagine!’s Leadership Development Group Update from December 2015

Tim West-Heiss, Shannon Bundy, Laura Ball, Maria Klickna, Sterling Wind

What is Imagine!’s Leadership Development Group (LDG)? I find myself asking this question even as a member of this year’s LDG. So let me share my experience from mid-October when I attended the 15th annual Coleman Conference with the LDG about my experience.

The Coleman Conference is a large annual gathering of persons who experience a disability, their family members, academics and special-educators, representatives from state and federal government, technology developers, and service providers from across the United States and several foreign countries. This diverse group of people discusses how technology presently impacts people who have an intellectual disability, and how technology can evolve to become even more accessible to benefit everyone regardless of cognitive differences. This conference occurs each fall, right here in our backyard, and is organized by the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities through the University of Colorado.

This was my first year attending the Coleman conference. Timothy Shriver, the chairman for the Special Olympics and keynote speaker for the event, gave a motivating and heartfelt speech about his perspectives in our field, and set the stage for a unique day of learning.

Several speakers gave overviews of initiatives at the federal level like the PCPID (President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities) report to the president titled “Leveling the playing field.” This presentation included recommendations on broad scale concerns like access to higher education and employment for individuals with cognitive disabilities.  Other speakers discussed their endeavors in things like the modification of webpage learning to include innovative adaptive methodology through the FLOE Project.  Post lunch was my favorite part of this conference when a panel of self-advocates took the stage. The panelist used a number of different devises to share their experiences and stories. Liz, an advocacy specialist with the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD), discussed the use of social media to incorporate her weekly advocacy videos. Cathy, the vice president of Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), gave an example of utilizing iPad’s to clearly articulate her advocacy insights and experiences. John Smith, project coordinator for the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota discussed his “Self-Advocacy Online” project. His project is designed to implement an accessible website as a resource for individuals looking to network and participate in organized self-advocacy groups across the country. I can think of only one word to describe these individuals and that word is heroic.

This experience reminded me that our field is full of heroes. It also reminded me that all who work at Imagine!, must stay focused on innovating and integrating by learning to support not just the people we serve, but the vital technologies that can deliver improved health, safety and engaged happiness for the people we serve.

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