Disability and Mental Health Hot Topics at ACES Convention

by Anya Weber

At the annual convention of the American Copy Editors Society, self-styled “word nerds” gather to discuss writing good headlines, using social media, and editing jargon-filled prose. At this year’s convention, several sessions also addressed topics related to disability, mental health, and accessibility. We’ll be covering some of those here on the blog.

Melissa McCoy from TEAM Up gave a talk called “Mental Health Matters,” aimed at journalists, bloggers, and others who write and edit news stories. McCoy emphasized the importance of covering mental health (MH) issues in a non-judgmental, non-inflammatory way.

McCoy works with reporters and news editors in CA on the way they portray mental illness. One in four Americans in any given year will experience a mental health issue, so it’s crucial to write about MH topics in a clear and well-researched way.

Usually the media only mentions mental health when it’s connected to a crisis or a crime (murder, suicide, etc.). McCoy urged her listeners to write more stories about positive or neutral aspects of MH—for example, looking at ways the Affordable Care Act impacts medical insurance for people with MH issues.

Sensitive coverage is especially important when writing about suicide. According to a report shared by the Suicide Prevention Research Center, “Research finds an increase in suicide by readers or viewers when:

  • The number of stories about individual suicides increases
  • A particular death is reported at length or in many stories
  • The story of an individual death by suicide is placed on the front page or at the beginning of a broadcast
  • The headlines about specific suicide deaths are dramatic…”

This phenomenon is known as “suicide contagion.” To help avoid it, McCoy said, we can write about suicide in a way that does not romanticize it or portray it as the result of one dramatic moment.

When writing about mental health, McCoy suggested asking ourselves: Is it relevant to the story? Who’s my source? Is there a diagnosis, or is it someone’s opinion (e.g., a police officer referring to a woman who stabbed someone as “mentally ill”)?

In a case like that, said McCoy, it’s fine to report what the officer said, but writers should frame it as “Officer Smith characterized Ms. Jones as ‘mentally ill.’”

McCoy cautioned writers against using MH terms in a slangy or joking way: “This sports team has been really schizophrenic this year” or “The stock market was bipolar today.” This is common, but demeaning, and adds to fear and stigma around MH issues. It’s our job as writers to raise the level of discourse.

Finally, McCoy suggested including a sidebar or end note with a help line number or website such as suicidepreventionlifeline.org (1-800-273-8255).

You can learn more about good writing practices around MH and suicide at these websites:

Guidelines: How to Write and Report About People with Disabilities

Style Guide: Reporting on Mental Health

Social Media Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention

Reporting on Suicide: Recommendations for the Media


Boston’s Mayor Seeks People with Disabilities to Volunteer on Commission

The City of Boston is seeking applications from people with disabilities to serve as volunteers on the Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities. Members will by appointed by Mayor Marty Walsh and will volunteer on the commission for a three-year term. The mayor is looking for volunteers who reflect the diversity of Boston’s many neighborhoods.

If you’re a Bostonian with a disability and are interested in getting your voice heard, send a letter of interest by April 1. You can mail your letter to:

Commissioner Kristen McCosh
Mayor’s Commission for Persons with Disabilities
Boston City Hall
One City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201

You can also email Ms. McCosh at kristen.mccosh@boston.gov, or call her at 617-635-3682 to get more details.

Learn more about the commission here:


Israeli Deaf-Blind Theatre Performance Comes to Boston

by Anya Weber

The Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble is bringing their show, Not by Bread Alone, to the Emerson/Paramount Center in Boston, the first week in April.

Nalaga’at Theater: http://www.nalagaat.org.il/amoota.php

Not by Bread Alone: https://artsemerson.org/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=notbybreadalone

Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Nalaga’at aims to integrate people who are deaf, blind, or deaf-blind into their communities. This theater group is the only deaf-blind acting ensemble in the world.

In “Not by Bread Alone,” eleven deaf-blind actors bake bread, in real time, on stage. Transitions are cued by a drum beat, which the actors can feel through vibration.

Learn more about the show and Nalaga’at: http://www.nalagaat.org.il/bread.php

The show is coming to Boston for six performances only, from April 1 through April 6. Grab a ticket soon!

Grab a ticket: https://artsemerson.org/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=notbybreadalone


ICI Staff Receive Champion of Change Award

by Anya Weber

On February 26, Institute for Community Inclusion staff were honored at the Buddy Walk on Washington Champion of Change Awards dinner of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). The Think College team received the honor of “Organization of the Year” from NDSS. 

“The event was inspiring,” says Cate Weir, a project coordinator at the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) and a member of the Think College team. “We were honored to be included in such a strong and effective group of advocates.”

According to NDSS, the Buddy Walk on Washington “brought over 320 people from more than 35 states across the country together to storm Capitol Hill advocating for legislative priorities that positively impact the lives of people with Down syndrome and their families.”

Running the awards dinner were Chip Gerhardt, the board president of NDSS, and Sara Wolff, a self-advocate with Down syndrome. Wolff wrote an online petition that has garnered over 230,000 signatures in support of the ABLE Act. This legislation aims to increase financial independence and decrease economic strain for citizens with disabilities.

The awards dinner was held in advance of a Buddy Walk to Capital Hill, where hundreds of advocates for Down syndrome met with their representatives to encourage passage of the ABLE Act. During the evening award recipients shared messages of hope, perseverance, and belief in a better future for people with Down syndrome.

Meg Grigal and her ICI colleagues Debra Hart and Cate Weir accepted the award on behalf of all who work for Think College at ICI as well as partners at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota. “We were all really struck by the commitment and energy of all who received awards,” says Grigal, a senior research fellow at the ICI. “Most of them are parents and self-advocates who work on their own time to advance causes important to the Down syndrome community.” 

In accepting the award, Grigal said, “Being acknowledged by such a strong advocacy organization is very affirming of our mission. Think College helps individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families build toward their dreams of college. We teach colleges and universities how to benefit from including students with intellectual disabilities into their campus communities. To make this happen, we depend on staff and partners throughout the country. This award honors the commitments of each of these team members.”

Learn more about the award winners on the NDSS Facebook page.

imageMeg Grigal, Deb Hart, and Cate Weir were honored to accept the 2014 Champion of Change Organization of the Year Award on behalf of everyone involved with Think College.


Film Project About Institution Seeks Funding

by Anya Weber

Filmmaker Jim Wolpaw is working on a documentary about the Joseph Ladd Center, a former institution in Rhode Island for people with developmental disabilities. The movie will be called Best Judgment: Ladd School Lessons. It uses the history of the Ladd Center as a jumping-off point to examine our society’s attitudes toward people with disabilities and toward institutionalization.

Wolpaw, who teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, is seeking funding to complete the film. Check out the trailer and see what it’s all about!


ReelAbilities Film Fest Returns to Boston

by Anya Weber

The ReelAbilities Disabilities Film Festival is coming to Boston for the third year in a row. ReelAbilities is the largest disability-focused film festival in the country, with the mission of “promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.”

ReelAbilities takes place in cities across the U.S. every year. The Boston festival will run from January 30 through February 6, with screenings of both short and feature-length films at seven venues in the Greater Boston Area.

Check out the lineup and mark your calendar to see some fascinating movies with a disability theme!


MA Agencies Partner to Improve Employment Outcomes

by Anya Weber

The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, and The Arc of Massachusetts have made a joint plan to improve employment outcomes for Massachusetts citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The plan is called Blueprint for Success: Employing Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities in Massachusetts.

The 18-month plan aims to close sheltered workshops in Massachusetts by June 2015. These workshops are segregated spaces where people with IDD work together, often for sub-minimum wage. There is a nationwide movement toward integrated employment in the community at a prevailing wage, and away from sheltered workshops. 

The Blueprint plan will transition people with IDD who are in sheltered workshops into individual employment, group employment in the community, or community-based day services. The executive summary states that the Blueprint “sets forth a path for the [Deval] Patrick Administration to be a leader among other states by taking the initiative to close sheltered workshops and provide supported employment in integrated settings.”

Several projects of the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) are focused on increasing integrated employment options for people with IDD. The ICI will be represented on the implementation team that will help move forward the Blueprint for Success plan in Massachusetts.

Read the Blueprint for Success.


ICI Awarded Grant on Higher Education for Students with Intellectual Disability and Autism

by Anya Weber 

The Think College team at the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), in partnership with Boston Public Schools, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, the University of Massachusetts, and Roxbury Community College, was just awarded an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will provide $2.375 million in research funds, focused around supporting young people with autism and intellectual disability as they transition from high school to college.

The grant will fund research of an inclusive dual enrollment transition model. This means that students with intellectual disability and autism, ages 18 to 22, will take college classes and work in their communities at the same time that they are finishing high school. The funding will also support ICI researchers and their partners to document the outcomes associated with an inclusive college experience for these youth.

This project is the first of its kind in the country, and establishes Boston Public Schools, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, the University of Massachusetts, and Roxbury Community College as leaders in the expanding field of inclusive higher education. Findings from this study will guide future policy and practice around equal access to higher education and integrated competitive employment.

We are thrilled to be able to work with our partners on this exciting project. Our hope is that this research will demonstrate the power that postsecondary education can have on the lives of transitioning youth with intellectual disability and autism.

To learn more about the i3 grant, visit the Department of Education’s website.  


ICI Director Visits Poland to Create Collaborations

by Anya Weber

ICI director William E. Kiernan recently returned from a 10-day trip to Poland, on which he was one of five travelers. Four were UMass Boston staff members, and one the CEO of a professional association on intellectual disabilities. The trip had three purposes:

  1. To build research collaborations around disability
  2. To create professional exchange programs around disability and other excluded populations
  3. To start up student and faculty exchange programs between Polish institutions of higher education and UMass Boston, focusing on disability policy and rights

The five UMass Boston staff members are Kiernan, Felicia Wilczenski and Laura Vanderberg of the College of Education and Human Development, Stanley Wanucha from the College of Advancing and Professional Studies, and Elzbieta Kijowska from the Office of International and Transnational Affairs. Margaret Nygren, the executive director of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was also part of the trip.

“We were looking to make affiliations with the schools there,” said Kiernan, who is the inaugural dean of the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development. Kiernan mentioned the possibility of summer exchange programs and collaboration on semester-long projects between UMass Boston and Polish universities.

The group had the chance to learn about Polish disability policy, and compare it to U.S. policy. “They have a lot of the right values,” said Kiernan. “They’re making sure persons with disabilities are dealt with as people, who have rights and should have opportunities.”

Laura Vanderberg, the assistant dean for assessment and planning at the College of Education and Human Development, said that the trip provided a fascinating window into Polish history, culture, and disability policy.

“Poland is a very old country with a very deep history,” Vanderberg explained. “But as a nation, with its current identity, it’s very young…In 1989, they were able to extract themselves from Communist rule and become independent. So their policy is very new.”

Vanderberg said that Poland is changing and developing rapidly, in terms of technology as well as social policy. “In 1993, the country started to build its first Internet and fiber optic infrastructure. That had happened ten years before in the U.S. But Poland was able to avoid the mistakes that we had made.”

In some ways, said Vanderberg, as a result of Poland’s late entry to the technology world, the country has wound up more advanced than the U.S. “In terms of software creation for courses, augmented reality, 3-D distance learning—they’re way ahead of us,” Vanderberg noted.

Due to the intensive planning and generosity of their Polish hosts, the UMass Boston team was able to visit many programs and centers focused on disability, including a daytime training program primarily for people with intellectual disabilities. Two of the people in the program gave a presentation to the American visitors, and talked with them afterwards (through a translator) about how they might take greater control of their program and increase their self-advocacy.

“We not only achieved our goals for the trip, but also learned an enormous amount about a fascinating, rapidly changing country,” said Vanderberg. Kiernan agreed: “We’re in the first stages of building a relationship with Poland, as we hope to do with many other countries. Our opportunities for collaboration are rich and exciting.”

image(L-R) William Kiernan (School for Global Inclusion and Social Development/Institute for Community Inclusion), Elzbieta Kijowska (Office of International and Transnational Affairs), Ewa Kaminska (Deputy Mayor for Social Policy in the City of Gdansk)


The School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at the UMass Boston Announces Official Opening

New school receives unanimous approval from the MA Board of Higher Education, prepares for first class this spring

On October 29, 2013, the new School for Global Inclusion and Social Development (SGISD) at the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston) received full approval for its curriculum in both masters and doctoral programs in global inclusion and social development from the MA Board of Higher Education. With this exciting news, the school is now officially open and accepting applications for its first masters class in January 2014.

The School is focused on exploring why groups are left out from their communities worldwide. Topics of exclusion studied might include disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, global location, and more. The School seeks to identify how more inclusive communities can be built through transdisciplinary study, research, and activity, and will prepare its students for leadership roles in inclusion. Graduates can expect positions in community development and advocacy, or education, research, and policy.

Dr. William Kiernan, who is both dean of the School, as well as director of its primary research center, the Institute for Community Inclusion said, “We are thrilled to receive full approval as we expand our expertise in inclusion internationally. We look forward to working with other disciplines across UMass Boston to foster collaboration, as we work to create solutions for change, from our communities in Boston, to other countries around the world.”

Students who enroll in the School will also select a concentration track to pair with their studies in global inclusion and social development, such as rehabilitation counseling, vision studies, and transition leadership. Rehabilitation Counseling and Vision Studies are also offered as additional masters programs within the School, with Transition Leadership also offered as a certificate. Additional concentrations will be available by September 2014 and will include the option to create an independent plan of study and take classes in other departments at UMass Boston.

Three new faculty were hired in the development of SGISD including rehabilitation counseling  professors Dr. Dimity Peter and Dr. James Soldner, and international human rights lawyer Dr. Gillian MacNaughton, who will teach of the School’s key courses this spring, SGISD 605 International Responses to Social Inclusion. Taught online, SGISD 605 is open to students studying in the School or other departments at UMass Boston, as well as non-degree students. Interested individuals can register as of November 4, 2013, here.

The school will offer all of its core classes in September 2014, which will mark the start of its inaugural PhD class. More information on the school’s exciting developments, course information, and admission and registration details can be found on its website.