WI LEND Celebrates 10 Years of Welcoming Disability Advocates

June 16, 2022

Wisconsin’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (WI LEND) program is proud to celebrate the tenth anniversary of graduating disability advocates as LEND trainees! WI LEND offers interdisciplinary and leadership training to over 30 trainees a year across more than a dozen disciplines, including disability advocates (persons with a developmental disability) and family (family members of a person with a developmental disability).

Thirteen trainees representing the disability advocacy discipline have completed LEND training since 2012! “The diverse perspectives from having multiple advocate and family Fellows in the WI LEND program has provided a rich, mutually beneficial training experience for all LEND trainees,” remarked Anne Bradford Harris, WI LEND Director.

It is so important to have the perspective of disability advocates represented in an interdisciplinary training program because as the saying goes, “Nothing about us, without us.” This quote, originally written by author James Charlton, continues to have relevance today and has become somewhat of a mantra. People with disabilities must be front and center as visible leaders with a platform to share their experiences and their voices.

Disability advocacy trainees are mentored by the Disability Advocacy Training Coordinator, Julie Schears, who has been working in this field for 23 years. Julie loves her work and commented, “I have been so fortunate to be a part of this leadership program and seen not only how the trainees grow over their training year, but also how they impact the community over time. Many graduates of LEND have done policy work state-wide and nationally, and participate on boards and committees that positively support the lives of persons with disabilities and their families in our state!” All of the disability advocates who have been involved with WI LEND have made a big impact on their own training cohorts as well as on their own growth as leaders. “It is so thrilling to be able to work with the next generation of leaders and watch what these graduates go on to do with their careers,” said Julie.

Just like trainees from any other discipline, the disability advocates represent their discipline and share their expertise and perspective. Disability advocacy trainees have shared a range of lived experiences, which have included intellectual disability, neuromotor disabilities, autism and a variety of mobility and speech/communication aids. No matter what disciplines they are in, all LEND trainees participate in LEND to learn how to become leaders in their roles as team members supporting children and youth with developmental disabilities. Disability accommodations are offered to all trainees who need them, regardless of their discipline. In 2021, WI LEND also hired a LEND graduate, Stasia Wilson, to be a Disability Advocacy Peer Mentor to incoming trainees.

In the 2021-2022  training year, Elise Fjelstad represented the disability advocacy discipline and really excelled. She recently completed a series of articles for the Badger Herald and you can read her latest article here.

Recent graduate and disability advocate, Stasia Wilson, discovered a new passion during her training with WI LEND. She participated in a mentorship program with the Communication Aids and Systems Clinic (CASC) at the Waisman Center where she worked with young children who use an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device for verbal communication, just like she does.

Past disability advocacy graduates, Erin Miller and Abby Tessmann, are now co-chairs of the UCEDD Constituent Advisory Committee (CAC) and participate nationally in meetings to support the inclusion of People with Disabilities (PWD) in decision-making across the country. Other graduates have gone on to work in child care settings, statewide support organizations and as leaders in the Autism community.

WI LEND, one of 60 LEND programs funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (US Department of Health and Human Services, grant # T73MC00044) is located at the Waisman Center University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.