School of Education announces new Center on Disability and Inclusion

student panelBringing together decades of leadership into one collaborative center, the School of Education has announced the formation of the Center on Disability and Inclusion (CDI). The new disability-related research center was formed to develop and implement initiatives promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of school and society, locally and globally. While maintaining a strong research focus, the CDI also leads in community engagement, technical assistance, and advocacy functions through a strategic collaboration of existing centers, including the Lawrence B. Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education, the Center on Human Policy, the Inclusion and Communication Initiatives (ICI) and the newly established Mid-State Partnership and Pre-Employment Transition Programs.

Christine Ashby, associate professor of inclusive and special education and disability studies, has been named director of the new center with Beth Myers, assistant professor of inclusive education, serving as assistant director.

Professor Ashby’s teaching and research focus on inclusive education broadly, with specific emphasis on supports for students with labels of autism and other developmental disabilities, communicative diversity, disability studies, and clinically rich teacher preparation. Her work seeks to disrupt dominant notions of disability as deficiency and underscores the importance of considering the lived experiences of individuals with disabilities and creating contexts for competence in inclusive schools and communities.

Ashby teaches across all levels of the Inclusive Education Programs from undergraduate to doctoral and coordinates the undergraduate inclusive elementary and special education program and the 1-6 and 7-12 inclusive special education masters’ programs. She is also the director of the Inclusion and Communication Initiatives, which focus on research, training and dissemination of information on communication strategies for individuals with disabilities who are non-speaking or who have limited speech.

“The CDI is the operationalization of an inclusive mission shared with many past and current colleagues at SU,” Ashby says. “The collaborative center will allow us to seek larger grants, share resources and expertise, and broaden the reach of our collective work advancing inclusive education and disability rights.”

The Lawrence B. Taishoff Center for Inclusive Higher Education is celebrating 10 years of promoting inclusive higher education for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Center’s flagship program, InclusiveU at Syracuse University, is a 4-year inclusive college program with a residential living component and serves as a model for other programs across the country. InclusiveU reached a milestone in 2020, with over 100 students currently enrolled.

The Center on Human Policy (CHP) is entering into its 50th year as a pioneer in disability education, advocacy and action. Rooted in the belief that all people have value, the CHP, through its programs and activities, continuously strives to promote full community participation for people with disabilities. CHP’s recent project, Community for All, created digital toolkits to help people with intellectual disabilities live in, and meaningfully engage with, their communities.

Celebrating 30 years, the Inclusion and Communication Initiatives (formally Institute on Communication and Inclusion) has distinguished itself as a national and international leader in research and training about typing to communicate for individuals without reliable verbal speech. In addition to training and technical support to typers and facilitators, their popular Saturday Series, coordinated for and by teen and adult typers, serves as a place to meet and learn.

In 2019, the School of Education was awarded over $9 million in funding from the New York State Education Department’s Office of Special Education to provide technical support and professional development in dozens of Central and Northern New York school districts. The capacity-building projects bring a community of practitioners together to support teachers, administrators, students and families in 51 school districts through services and trainings delivered by three new Centers:

  • Regional Partnership Center
  • Early Childhood Family and Community Engagement Center
  • School-Age Family and Community Engagement Center

Faced with the challenge of school closures this spring, the Centers developed new strategies to reach professionals and families including virtual transition resource fairs and ‘online-only’ trainings on topics such as IEP education sessions.

The School of Education’s Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) program recognizes that students who have disabilities have a much lower rate of high school graduation than their peers. The numbers of students with disabilities living independently and entering the workforce are also significantly lower than their non-disabled peers. Pre-ETS hopes to improve these outcomes through community partnerships and support services, specifically focusing on underserved youth with disabilities in Central New York.

Program Director Jayson McDowell is excited about the impact this grant can have on students in the community. “Providing early access to career exploration and work experiences is linked to higher outcomes of students graduating high school, attending post-secondary education and training programs, and higher rates of employment,” he says.