FAST Projects Help Training Programs Make Strides toward Greater Diversity and Inclusion, Resulting Resources Now Available Online

January 6, 2016

In November 2014, AUCD's Interdisciplinary Technical Assistance Center on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (ITAC) encouraged project proposal from LEND and DBP programs that wished to receive targeted assistance and funding support of up to $7,000 to address one of several priority areas of need. After carefully reviewing each proposal, ITAC staff selected five programs to participate in this initial cohort of Focused Assistance to Support Training (FAST) projects. The hope was that these projects would not only lead to measurable improvements for the programs involved, but that their efforts could serve as innovative and resourceful models for others to address similar areas of need.

Three of the five programs recognized that increasing trainee and faculty diversity would improve LEND graduates’ capacity to serve their communities. Nebraska LEND developed the role of a current trainee to serve as its new Cultural Diversity Coordinator. They also engaged an outside consultant for an intensive, multi-day process that resulted in the development of a training plan and specific first-year activities for the new Coordinator. New Hampshire LEND began building relationships with key state and university leaders, including minority health officials from both New Hampshire and Maine; one of those individuals was brought onto the program’s advisory committee. They also created an insert for their LEND brochure that highlights an ethnically diverse graduate and tells her story, along with a short recruitment video and two alumni profiles. Vanderbilt LEND also developed a new recruitment video that is specifically targeted at underrepresented minority students who have been accepted to professional schools at participating universities; four minority healthcare professionals talk about their careers serving individuals with neurodevelopmental disabilities. They also plan to collaborate with Black fraternities and sororities to provide activities where undergraduate students can interact with individuals who have disabilities through community service opportunities.

The remaining two programs sought out ways to better include and support family members of people with disabilities in all aspects of training. Arizona LEND worked with a consultant to design a three-hour seminar highlighting the family perspective, to be facilitated by the Family Faculty member in March 2016 and potentially delivered in non-LEND community settings down the road. They also used survey input from current and former Family Fellows to create resources (including a comprehensive and reader-friendly “Educational Toolbox”) that Mentors can use to increase content accessibility and improve participation in didactic and related activities. Virginia LEND held a one-day meeting of former, current, and potential Family Trainees to discuss, prioritize, and suggest options for supports that families need to increase their participation; this led to concrete recommendations and the implementation of a new family recruitment strategy. For example, the 2015-2016 training year is the first in which Virginia LEND will have a Medium-Term Family Trainee. As a result of this project, the program also hopes to expand distance learning options for family members in future years.

While projects were underway, ITAC facilitated individual and peer-to-peer technical assistance, monitored progress toward planned objectives, responded to grantee inquiries, and created opportunities for programs to share results across the network. This included summary presentations from both groups of programs at the 2015 AUCD Annual Meeting; grantees not only reviewed their accomplishments and plans for continued success, but identified resources and important lessons learned.

Now, information about completed projects is available on the “FAST Projects” page of the ITAC website. This not only includes objectives accomplished and who to contact with questions, but all of the downloadable materials and other resources developed that resulted from programs’ efforts. ITAC will continue to update this archive as more cohorts (including the six programs that comprise the 2016 cohort) are selected and complete their projects.

For more information about FAST Projects, including how to become part of a future cohort, please contact Ben Kaufman at (240)821-9461 or