My introduction to AUCD marked a new chapter of my life. It is a blessing that I can now call many of the AUCD network members my mentors, colleagues, and friends.
The individual elements of the AUCD mission such as advocacy, research, policy, and disability rights, were not new to me. I grew up in the disability system; I did not need convincing about the importance of training. In the early 90s I was the little girl being shuffled from occupational therapy to physical therapy to recreational therapy to speech therapy, seeing specialists, having surgeries, and having IEP meetings. From my experience as a patient, I know firsthand how important it is to have properly trained professionals on a care team, and the difference it can make to a child and family.
I know personally how important it is to have a good transition for young adults with disabilities because mine was awful. Not many people know this, but I barely graduated from college. My disability supports were inadequate or non-existent. These experiences fueled my desire to be involved in disability advocacy.
My first job out of college was as a disability advocate for an independent living center. Throughout my twenties I learned through mistakes and successes what it means, personally, to be a successful young adult with a disability.
I eventually built up the confidence to go back to school and get a Masters degree in Social Work. It was at Fordham University where I was introduced to the LEND program at the Westchester Institute for Human Development. The more I read about AUCD, UCEDDs, IDDRCs and LENDs the more I felt at home, and knew a traineeship was something I had to do.
My LEND year was the best educational and career decision I have made. It was so much more than an internship to fulfill a graduate requirement. Without LEND I would not have the life I have today. I grew as a person, learned skills in research and advocacy, and began to understand that I can be a leader. In addition to the weekly training, I was able to go to the AUCD Conference and the Disability Policy Seminar, both times making valuable connections which have been enduring and life changing.
After graduation, I moved to Baltimore for what I thought was my dream job as a research analyst. A few months later, due to funding cuts, my supposed dream job disappeared. I reconnected with my LEND colleagues and eventually was hired at the Maryland UCEDD. I now help grow a UCEDD when just two years prior a UCEDD was helping to grow me. Looking back, I have the multifaceted experiences of being the special needs little girl, the struggling adolescent and twenty-something, the eager trainee, and now the disability professional working to improve the lives of others. None of this chapter of my life would be possible without the combined efforts of the AUCD network.
Lizzy Hall, MSW
Evaluation & Development Coordinator
Kennedy Krieger Institute