The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University

Gear Up grant to aid multicultural students

August 28, 2014 by Sue Reeves

image of JC vazquez

JC Vazquez

The GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) grant program provides assistance to multicultural students who are interested in pursuing higher education options, specifically careers within the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services. The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University is a unit of the College.

The CPD’s multicultural coordinator, JC Vazquez, will provide assistance and support to the program. The grant serves students in Utah and Nevada, 7 rural school districts, 3 Charter Schools, the Ute Indian Tribe, Utah State University and 4 community/ business organizations created a partnership to address the needs of these low-income and at-risk students in small rural communities in northern Utah. The Logan school district is included in the grant service area.

“I will share information with them and get them exposed to the faculty and staff at the College of Education,” Vazquez said. “There are a large number of Spanish-speaking students and parents. We want to provide assistance to them so the information is accessible to the parents. The parent part is essential to the Gear Up program.”

Gear Up staff work to identify potential students—middle school and high school—and to arrange informational visits for the students and their parents, Vazquez said.

“If we identify students in other areas, we can collaborate with other colleges as well, to increase the diversity on campus,” Vazquez said. “This is a good fit to the work the CPD does with the dean’s office to help diversify the College.”

But bringing the students to campus for a visit is only one component, he said.

“We want to provide them with the tools to stay and graduate,” he said. “We want to make sure our efforts not only bring students to campus, but to be able to retain and graduate students.

The effort is, personally, very close to his heart, Vazquez said.

“Being a first-generation student and knowing first-hand the challenges of navigating the system and acquiring language in higher education … after many positive and non-positive experiences, I think I can share with students some of those things,” he said. “I want to get them excited to see themselves at Utah State.”


CAC Corner: People are more than their disability

August 19, 2014 by Sue Reeves

By Mary Kava, CAC member

Man standing in warehouse.

Meaningful employment is an integral part of the “American Dream.”

Part of the concept of the “American Dream” is that everyone, no matter who they are, can have a job, a home, etc.  Becoming self-sufficient, able to do for themselves, makes a person feel good, more self-confident, and a part of something.  A job is one way that can make this happen.  Unfortunately for many of individuals with disabilities, obtaining a job where they can earn a wage that can help them achieve the “American Dream” is extremely hard.

To quote from the Utah Department of Human Services – Division of Services for People With Disabilities Employment First website: “When individuals are employed in the community earnings increase, social opportunities and relationships expand, self-determination is heightened, and people report a higher quality of life. “

Nineteen percent of the U.S. population is living with a disability – making them the largest minority group.  Unemployment for this group is twice the national average.  So why is this the case?

So often, as a society, we tend to put limits on people and their ability.  We see a person in a wheel chair and say “well they probably cannot do this or that.”  We do not look beyond the chair and get to know the person to find out what knowledge and/or other skills they have.  For a person who appears to be an individual with an intellectual/developmental disability, we tend to put a label on them as having limits to what type of job they can do.

Over the years, Government and non-profit groups have strived to help individuals living with a disability find employment and training.  Laws have been passed and “Employment First” programs initiated in 32 different states.  Utah passed their “Employment First Priority” legislation in 2011.  While these have been some help, only 19% or less of individuals with disabilities who are receiving services by a state agency have been able to obtain competitive employment.  According to the website for Utah’s Employment First program, Utah has dropped from 7th to 12th nationally for supported employment.  One problem with these programs is that when budgets have to be cut, these are generally the first to go.  Somehow the word is not getting out that people are more than their disability.  We need to get the public more aware that people with disabilities are not limited in what they can do.  People tend to learn by seeing and experiencing.

On a recent trip this summer, I was reminded of what can happen if a person is given the opportunity to soar above the limits society sets for them.  Seeing this first hand helped me learn.

Missouri has a campaign call “No Boundaries”.  There is a media campaign to get people to rethink their assumptions about persons with disabilities and look at the whole person instead.  However, it goes beyond the media message.  It also places people with disabilities in jobs where others can see what individuals are truly capable of.  For example, on I-70 the main rest stops entering and leaving the State were manned by individuals with disabilities.  These individuals were doing a variety of jobs.  I overheard a young woman who appeared to have Down syndrome.  She was cleaning the area and helping answer questions from visitors such as where recycling cans were, places to see, things to do, water for their pets, etc.  She did it in a very nice professional, helpful way. I commented to her about what a good job she was doing. She proceeded to tell me that she was a fulltime employee with the State of Missouri, had health benefits, retirement, etc.  She was so proud of her job.  She gave me a survey card and said she got raises because people had told her bosses she had done a good job. She said “I love my work and I never miss a day.”  How many “normal” individuals can say that?  There was a young man in a wheel chair who staffed an information booth and helped people with the Wi-Fi questions, telling about places to see and go, etc.  Another individual was mowing the grounds.

In stopping at a national chain craft store, I discovered that of the 10 employees working at the time, six had disabilities. One clerk was an individual with a hearing impairment and could read lips very well. A young girl at the checkout counter was an individual with an intellectual/developmental disability, and knew how to use the computerized items for checking out.  She was also an excellent sewer and helped me with a question I had about something I bought.  Another individual had only one arm, but could handle the large bolts of material and make a perfect cut. (FYI:  I cannot cut a straight line on fabric with two arms and hands.)

Just so many places we went to we saw individuals who in the past may not have had a job or just a job cleaning tables at a restaurant working in careers/jobs where one rarely saw them working.  These employers, it would appear, looked at the whole person and not just the disability.

Many years ago as part of a college course, I visited a company that manufactured oil filters for everything from small engines to large ship engines.  The company hired many people.  It was automated.  One thing that impressed me was the number of persons with disabilities that they hired.  One filter they made needed to be sewn using a special sewing machine.  The owner said they had found that because this job required sitting for a long period, they had a huge turnover in these positions.  People would get bored sitting for more than a few minutes, want to get up and walk around, etc.  Hiring people whose disability required them to be in wheel chairs lessened this turnover and productivity went up as these individuals were able to complete products quickly because they were not constantly getting up and down to walk around.  Because productivity was up, these individuals were also given a higher pay level than was previously given.

I recently talked to a State of Utah employee who told me the State does hire individuals with disabilities to work in the State Offices/agencies.  This is great.  However, it would be nice to see more individuals in different jobs where the public can see that individuals with disabilities are more than the label we have placed on them.  Maybe this will get Society to rethink how we view individuals with disabilities.

Just because a person has a disability does not limit them. They may not be able to walk, use their hands, talk, see or whatever, but they may be more skilled than we assume. As a Society, we need to change how we look at people and not put labels on them or limit their opportunities.  We need to give them the opportunity to try to reach the “American Dream.”


Heidi’s Happenings: Christmas in July

August 12, 2014 by Sue Reeves

Heidi Hill is a guest blogger for the CPD’s Developmental Skills Laboratory (DSL), a day program for adults with disabilities. Heidi loves to type and each month she’ll be sharing the fun activities that she and her “buds” are doing at DSL.

Image of boy with cookies.

Hayden having fun making Christmas cookies in July!

For the month of July, we went outdoors to have some soaking-wet fun with water balloons. Another day, we made funny hats and wore them. To celebrate Pioneer Day, everyone made dolls and dresses out of colored yarn. My favorite day of that entire work week was when Heidi Sue and the buds traveled downhill in two vans to get Aggie Ice Cream. When we reached there, I chose to try Rocky Road. We also played a fun bowling game here at the work site. We also had students come all the way from Korea to help us. They were lots of fun! We welcomed a new participant in July. Mandy became part of our DSL family and she is lots of fun. Mandy loves Garth Brooks and kittens. It was a great month here at DSL!

Summer program is in full swing. Since they are at school in December, the kids upstairs celebrated Christmas in July. They put up a Christmas tree, baked Christmas cookies and made gingerbread houses. They also did many activities with Common Ground. They went swimming and to the movies. Summer goes by so quickly–the last day of Summer Program is August 15! We will miss them!

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CPD receives IOTI grant for multicultural training

August 7, 2014 by Sue Reeves

image of JC vazquez

JC Vazquez

The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University has received an Interagency Outreach Training Initiative (IOTI) grant to provide multicultural training to service providers across the state.

According to JC Vazquez, the CPD’s multicultural co-ordinator, the training is designed to help professionals and paraprofessionals become aware of effective communication practices with diverse populations.

“We will go to rural and urban areas where agencies provide services to people with disabilities and to under-represented populations,” Vazquez said. The two-hour trainings will give an overview of cultural competency and explain the areas that should be taken into consideration when working with multicultural clients. Agencies can also request additional in-depth training on specific topics.

The one-year grant targets the areas of St. George, Moab, the Salt Lake area, the West Valley area, and Cache Valley, Vazquez said.

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Aggies Elevated receives USU Diversity Grant

August 5, 2014 by Sue Reeves

Students sitting on grass.

Aggies Elevated students at a recent orientation event.

Aggies Elevated, a new inclusive post-secondary education opportunity for young adults with intellectual disabilities, has received a three-year, $15,000 grant from the Utah State University Diversity Council. The program is located within the Center for Persons with Disabilities and will launch with eight students in the fall.

“I have to give credit to Alma Burgess, who informed me there was a grant available on campus from the Diversity Council,” said Shane Johnson, associate director of development for the CPD. “I thought it was a perfect fit.”

Johnson submitted the grant proposal in March and was notified in April that the grant had been awarded.

According to the USU Diversity Council’s web site, the council’s mission is to increase diversity among University faculty, administration and students, take intentional steps to improve the campus climate for underrepresented individuals and to support ongoing diversity and inclusion-related efforts that exist within the University and Cache Valley communities.

The purpose of the grant program is to support initiatives across the university system which align with the missions and goals of the University as well as those of the Diversity Council. The funds are designed to support both one-time programming and events, as well as long–term, one–to three–year projects that support the University’s mission, goals, and objectives related to diversity and inclusion.

Aggies Elevated is a two-year certificate program. Students will live on campus and attend classes with their neurotypical peers. The emphasis of the program is to build independent living skills and career exploration through internships so that the participants can live as independently as possible and engage in meaningful employment that they enjoy.