Imparato visit begins VKC’s 50th anniversary festivities

By: Courtney Taylor

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015 and kicked off the festivities with a highly anticipated lecture by Andrew Imparato, J.D., executive director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). Imparato delivered the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Commemorative lecture titled “The Future of Disability Policy,” and spent two days with a packed schedule of conversations with VKC leadership, faculty, staff, and community partners.

"Andy’s visit provided a wonderful opportunity for our community to look back over the past 50 years of accomplishments and leadership in translational research, model services, and vibrant training programs that have collectively opened new doors for people with developmental disabilities and their families,” said Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., director of the VKC. “At the same time, we were inspired by Andy’s visit to make even greater contributions in the 50 years ahead. Importantly, we were reminded that the work at our Center is joined by the collective wisdom, contributions, and passion of our network partners and talented leaders at AUCD. Together, we will open many new doors of opportunity for people with developmental disabilities of all types, including doors we once thought were out of our reach."

The Future of Disability Policy

Imparato’s lecture focused on the opportunities and challenges our country faces as we seek to realize the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He reminded attendees that the retirements of longstanding champions Iowa Senator Tom Harkin and Georgia Congressman George Miller provide an opportunity for the disability community to cultivate new Congressional leaders to advance a compelling new policy agenda for children and adults with disabilities.

Imparato pointed to current federal legislative activity, including the recently authorized Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, as building blocks for future disability policy. He upheld the opportunity for leveraging the leadership of the Obama administration on a number of areas that, collectively, have the potential to positively impact key disability issues. With a tone of optimism and encouragement, Imparato reminded attendees that we are seeing some interesting leadership in the federal sector and that the time is ripe to have rich conversations with these new champions.

The MLK lecture concluded with Imparato sharing an apt quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels inevitability. Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action."

Click here to view the recorded lecture. Click here to view a slide show featuring Imparato's visit.

Touring the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center

In addition to his lecture, Imparato also participated in a whirlwind, two-day tour of the clinics, training programs, research labs, and collaborative partnerships of the VKC. His visit started with conversations with the Tennessee Governor’s Employment First Task Force, the Tennessee Alliance for Public Policy, and Disability Rights Tennessee attorneys.

“None of the work we do on key disability issues is done in a silo,” said Elise McMillan, J.D., co-director of the VKC UCEDD. “It was important to have time on his agenda for meetings with other key leadership and groups in Tennessee. By virtue of his visit, we were able to talk about better ways to further the strategies of employing people with disabilities, involving more self-advocates and families in our work, and to talk about the important expansion and improvement of health care options and long term supports and services for people with disabilities in our state.”

Imparato met with faculty and staff of Tennessee Disability Pathfinder and the Multicultural Outreach Program. He toured the VKC Reading Clinic, the Psychophysiology Lab, and learned about the research, training, and outreach projects of the Treatment & Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders. In addition, one-on-one conversations took place with key faculty of the VKC UCEDD and LEND, as well as with key leadership of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Meals also were a time of engagement. Imparato broke bread with students and Ambassadores (peer mentors) from Next Steps at Vanderbilt, to learn about the positive impact the 2-year college certificate program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities has had on the campus. He also was the guest of honor at an intimate luncheon with LEND and UCEDD trainees, Community Advisory Council members, and VKC community partners.

Imparato’s visit was informative, invigorating, and inspirational. His message of hope resonated with all who came into contact with him during his visit. It was the perfect way to celebrate both the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and the VKC’s celebration of 50 years of discovery, training, and service.

50th Anniversary Celebration Details

In January, the VKC launched a special website celebrating its 50 years of opening doors and transforming lives through discovery, service, and training. The website includes a message from VKC director Elisabeth Dykens, a VKC timeline in the context of the national disability rights movement, videos, and photo gallery. Guests to the site are invited to summarize their experience with disability in just six words or share a personal story about the impact the VKC has had on their lives. Additional special events will be held throughout 2015.

Last Updated: 1/27/2015 3:20:02 PM

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