The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) is stronger and its national reach is enhanced due in part to its membership in the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD), a national network of interdisciplinary programs focused on intellectual and developmental disabilities based at medical centers and universities in every state and U.S. territory.
Benefits of AUCD Membership
AUCD membership includes 67 UCEDDs (University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities), 52 LENDs (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities), and 14 IDDRCs (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers). The VKC is one among only a few centers nationwide to have all three of these programs.
AUCD supports the efforts of its members through activities such as advocacy with Congress and Executive Branch agencies that fund and regulate programs used by people with disabilities. They facilitate networking and partnering with other national organizations, promote communication and dissemination of information both within and outside the network, and provide technical assistance on a broad range of topics.
“One of the ways that the AUCD Network has been so helpful for centers like ours and for the people we work with and for is their presence nationally and internationally,” said Elise McMillan, co-director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VKC UCEDD). “Not only do they continue to educate and advocate on our behalf, but they also provide a number of ways for our network to become better engaged in policy work. They facilitate opportunities and support us in ways that make educating our Congressional members and Tennessee legislators more informed, innovative, and sustainable.”
The annual Disability Policy Seminar is an example of how AUCD works to cultivate network champions on Capitol Hill and to advance the grassroots movement for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Seminar creates opportunities for members to learn from experts, to discuss key issues from the states, and to converge on Capitol Hill to speak directly with representatives about the high-priority issues.
“The Disability Policy Seminar and AUCD’s annual meetings provide wonderful opportunities for our faculty, staff, and trainees to learn and to share their knowledge,” said McMillan, “It’s always exciting to see how AUCD uses the expertise of its members to lead, educate, and connect on relevant and timely policy issues. It’s a true example of collective impact when everyone is encouraged to bring their strengths to the conversation to collectively address a shared challenge.”
Weekly, AUCD publishes Disability Policy News In Brief, which features updates on key legislation affecting people with disabilities and their families. Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All is a weekly video series that highlights current issues in disability policy. It is hosted by Liz Weintraub, a long-time disability advocate and is produced by AUCD. Link here to subscribe to AUCD’s In Brief newsletter.
Resources for Disability Community
NIRS (National Information Reporting System) is the national, web-based data reporting and retrieval system for the AUCD Network. NIRS is a useful tool for accessing and promoting the important work of university-based centers and programs on disability and special health care needs (SHCN) to a wide array of constituents, including people with disabilities and or SHCN and their families, local communities, states, service providers, funding agencies, policy makers, and other partners. This large database is open to the public and can be searched here.
The AUCD Network has played a supportive role in the development of the National Collaborative on Faith and Disability, which is led by the VKC UCEDD and includes 14 UCEDDs from across the country. The Collaborative works to support people with disabilities, their families, and those who support them by providing national and international leadership in the areas of research, education, service, and dissemination related to disability, religion, and inclusive supports. From a webinar series to a project that trains teams in congregations to support a member/jobseeker with a disability in connecting with meaningful employment, the project was possible because of networking opportunities provided by AUCD.
VKC faculty, staff, and trainees serve on AUCD councils focused on the areas of community education and dissemination, research and evaluation, and training. There is a council just for members of UCEDD Community Advisory Councils, and special interest groups with VKC participants on autism, employment, religion and spirituality, health, and more.
Annually AUCD recognizes the achievements and contributions of individuals, programs, and organizations that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made outstanding contributions in advocacy, research, policy, and practice that further diversity and create more inclusive communities for people with disabilities and their families. The accomplishments of many VKC UCEDD faculty, staff, and trainees have been honored by AUCD awards.
“Professional development opportunities are also a big part of how AUCD provides its members with tools for success,” said McMillan. “We have had VKC participants in the AUCD Leadership Academy, students who play the role of virtual trainees, and so many other creative and impactful endeavors. While the VKC has a truly exceptional reputation for the work we do, we also know that it is often possible because of the support from AUCD.”
Courtney Taylor is VKC associate director of Communications and Dissemination.