After the excitement of speaking on the opening plenary during day 2 of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) conference, I was looking forward to the continued energy of the following day, and as usual, AUCD didn’t disappoint! The day began with a fantastic plenary on The Future of Education, Employment, and Community Living for People with Disabilities. Talk about tackling the critical topics! The panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff, a co-anchor of PBS NewsHour, was spot on, and included three women doing incredible work for the disability community: Melody Musgrove, the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs in the Department of Education, Portia Wu, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employment and Training Administration in the Department of Labor, and Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of the Administration for Community Living. While I’d love to just post the transcript because I believe it would speak for itself as to how poignant the panel was, I have carried away a few main points. Musgrove asserted that inclusion is everyone’s responsibility in school systems. Moreover, the panelists all addressed how crucial it is to realistically prepare people with disabilities for the workforce. Amen to that!
Following the plenary, I chose to attend a concurrent session on the use of social media (have I mentioned how much I love social media?!) to promote ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, led by Isabel Hodge, a parent advocate, and Andrea Shettle, and Patricia Morrissey of the United States International Council on Disabilities. When I was interning for AUCD, I worked on this effort along with the policy team, and it was by far one of the highlights of my summer. After this session, I got to spend time with the AUCD Special Interest Group on disability and sexual health (again, have I mentioned how much I love this topic? I know, you’re sensing a theme here!) during which we focused on the importance of ending the taboo.
Now, full disclosure: once this session ended, I spent some time getting ready for the AUCD Awards Celebration and Networking event. What can I say? I love an excuse to get dressed up. And let me tell you, this was an event worth getting fancy for, because the award recipients were all incredible. Hearing about their amazing work renewed my energy to advocate, although really, that can be said about everything I’ve experienced throughout this conference!
— Deanna Kay Rice (@deannakayrice) November 11, 2014
And finally, the conference has come to a close with a bang. I had the privilege this morning of being in the same room as Taryn Mackenzie Williams, the current White House Public Engagement Advisor, and the Honorable Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who are both immensely influential and admirable champions for the disability rights movement. How empowering it was to listen to discussion of the progress we’ve made within the disability community. But, as Senator Harkin so aptly stated: “We’ve come a long way, but we can’t back down on our commitment to enlarging the civil rights of people with disabilities.” It is this sentiment I’d like to leave you with as you pack your bags, board your planes or trains, and return home. The power is in our hands to create positive change, and I can’t wait to see just how far we’ve come when old friends and new meet again next year in Washington, D.C.