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The Institute for Community Inclusion Focuses on a Fundamental Philosophy: Opportunity for Everyone (UMass Reporter)

By Anne-Marie Kent

Originally published: 12/2002

Read the article on umb.edu.

Looking for employment can be difficult. Having a physical challenge, psychological disability, or other form of disability can make the process even more challenging. "Seven out of ten people with disabilities who are seeking employment are out of work," says William Kiernan, director of UMass Boston's Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI). "There are perceptions out there that people with disabilities can't work."

Affiliated with the university for the last 15 years, the ICI is a national center providing services, information, and research to foster awareness and dispel negative attitudes regarding people with disabilities. The ICI offers a myriad of workshops, and seminars, collaborates in working partnerships, and undertakes research projects all in service of its primary goal of inclusion.

"Our focus is to figure out ways people with disabilities can participate in everyday activities and all aspects of the community," explains Kiernan. The ICI defines "disability" to include physical and learning disabilities or challenges, hearing or sight impairment, psychiatric impairment, Down's Syndrome, mental retardation, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) of refugees and others, depression, and permanent disability resulting from domestic violence.

Whatever the disability, the goal of the Institute is to foster inclusion. Says Kiernan, "We have a simple approach-- we want people with disabilities to experience the same opportunities as anyone else." Kiernan adds that the institute advocates for personal choice, self-determination, and social and economic justice.

This fall, the ICI received over $3 million in grants and state contracts, with an additional $5 million slated for next year. In fact, the ICI has received a total of 17 new grants this year, totaling over $10 million. Over the years, the ICI has received numerous grants from the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, to name just a few. In total, the ICI has 45 grants and contracts that support their work.

"The mission of the ICI is to improve access and services to finding employment for people with disabilities and their families," says Rooshey Hasnain, project coordinator for the ICI's Working Connections Project. The project is aimed at increasing employment opportunities for members of culturally diverse communities.

Working Connections is only one of many projects undertaken by the ICI to enhance employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Staff members work directly with people with disabilities to help them find and keep employment. They also provide training and consultation on employment issues to service providers and consumers of services across the country and internationally.

The center also does extensive research on employment issues through numerous research projects. According to Kiernan, research plays an integral role in most ICI activities, and has been conducted on topics such as employment, transition, school inclusion, and recreation. ICI research examines the multiple influences affecting the quality of life for people with disabilities including personal supports and relationships, professional support strategies, organizational influences, and state and federal policy.

The institute also provides clinical evaluation and assessment services through its Developmental Evaluation Center (DEC). The DEC conducts interdisciplinary team evaluations at Children's Hospital, and its staff consult to a number of community programs. Each DEC team concentrates on specific areas of expertise and works in partnership with the family and other services in the hospital or in the community. ICI works with community organizations in increasing their capacity to include individuals with disabilities into all of their activities. The goal is to develop resources and support within the community for people with disabilities and their families, creating opportunities for choice and full participation in all aspects of the community.

One aspect of community involvement is related to education. The ICI is currently involved with school districts throughout the Commonwealth, assisting with the inclusion and empowerment of students with disabilities through technical assistance, training and research. These activities include the areas of assistive technology, Person-Centered Planning, self-determination and leadership, transition from school to adult life, expanding inclusive recreational and community living options and the inclusion of students with complex medical health care needs.

The institute has worked extensively on adult training and technical assistance with both doctoral students at the Graduate College of Education (GCOE) and continuing education students. Kiernan has been partnered with GCOE to help educators address the unique learning skills of children, those with disabilities and those without, and to propose the implementation of a new curriculum for Massachusetts schools which includes the education of all students in their natural school and classroom settings.

The ICI will relocate to the UMass Boston campus by 2004. Thus far, ICI has led a dual existence at Children's Hospital and UMass Boston. While the Institute's affiliation with Children's Hospital will not change, more than 80 percent of its activities will occur under the university umbrella.

Leigh DuPuy and Lisa Greggo contributed to this story.

Image: The many members of the ICI staff in their offices located at Park Plaza. The institute plans to move fully to UMass Boston in 2004. (Photo by Harry Brett)

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