ARMS of Advocacy: Arkansas and Mississippi LEND

March 20, 2019

The Arkansas (AR) and Mississippi (MS) LEND program engenders a diverse, interdisciplinary culture of growth and learning in the disability field. Composed of trainees and faculty from 16 health care disciplines, we conduct quarterly solution-focused learning sessions with a local family who has a child with a disability. Trainees have the opportunity to interview each family two times and collaborate in inter-disciplinary teams to find solutions to challenges the family and child may be encountering. A third meeting with each family culminates in trainees presenting their findings. This mutually beneficial exchange is enhanced through the inclusion of telecommunication. Our trainees in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and two other cities in Arkansas outside of Little Rock participate through video conferencing with the family. As a rural state, the utilization of telehealth and communication in Arkansas will be vital for improving access of care to individuals with disabilities and their families.

A highlight of our program is the annual advocacy panel. Each spring we hold a discussion with our self-advocate trainees, faculty and family members. We believe the voice of an advocate is fundamental to the shaping our perspectives not only in our work as clinicians, researchers, or professors but in our daily lives. It is one of the richest experiences in our LEND program. It was best articulated by Michael Thornton, our faculty advocate in Little Rock, "As a self-advocate, LEND has helped me to think more about what matters to the disability community and how we are just as important as all the other trainees and faculty. We learn from each other's strengths and grow together ". Through several of our clinics, we conduct outreach to rural and urban areas to provide Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses. These experiences develop our trainees to become leaders in the healthcare field with the insight to adequately care for individuals with disabilities and their families. We also represent five different universities between Arkansas and Mississippi enlarging our footprint in the area. Together we lend a hand, or rather, ARMS in furthering advocacy.