UCEDD Resource Center ExceLens Series: AUCD Emerging Leader: Blake Warner

November 2, 2023


University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs) aim to positively affect the lives of people with disabilities and their loved ones by building and strengthening systems that support full community participation. These activities are carried out in alignment with the DD Act (hyperlink) through the UCEDD core functions, which include (1) interdisciplinary training, including continuing education; (2) community service, including training, technical assistance, model, and demonstration services; (3) research including evaluation, and analysis of public policy; and (4) information dissemination. The ExceLens series highlights the valuable work of the UCEDDs within university systems, the community, and in the lives of people with disabilities across the lifespan and their family members.


Honoring the theme of the AUCD Annual Conference, this edition of ExceLens is excited to feature AUCD Emerging Leader Blake Warner. Blake has previously completed two years of SD LEND and is currently serving as a UCEDD trainee and completing a predoctoral internship at the UCLA Tarjan Center. Blake is passionate about advocacy and policy reform efforts, particularly for LGBTQ+ individuals in the disability community.  The AUCD Community Inclusion Team was able to sit down with Blake and learn more about his interests, goals, and experience so far as an AUCD Emerging Leader. Please read on to see the highlights from Blake’s interview!

Question and Answer with Blake Warner

What does access mean to you?

I think one part of access that may often be overlooked is the knowledge of resources. So, we might have lots of resources available and technically accessible, but if we don't know that these resources are there, then they won't be accessed. That's a piece that I'd like to work on is just the awareness of these resources. You know, I come from a very rural state where access can be difficult. But I've seen even in California, a much more resource-dense area, that even if there are services available, without being made aware, individuals with disabilities and their families might not have the knowledge to know what's out there and what resources are even available or accessible.

How are you working to improve access for and with individuals with disabilities?

When I was working with the LEND trainees in South Dakota, I would bring up the AUCD website quite a bit and point people to individual things that people were working on or just talking about NIRS a little bit. In California, one of the projects I'm working on with the Tarjan Center is a Leadership Academy. And so, we surveyed a bunch of self-advocates and potential leaders in the disability community on what they would like as far as a policy and advocacy training program. We've been taking their feedback and developing a program that's based off of the Partners in Policymaking Programs in Minnesota. Working with self-advocates has been huge.

What are your goals for the future?

I kind of want to combine all of these passions. I think long-term career-wise, I would love to stay within the AUCD network and continue to work with the UCEDD or LEND program just because I've seen the great work that can be done. I'd love to continue on with the Leadership Academy. I'm also really big into the PEERS Program here at UCLA. And I want to combine that with my passion of working with LGBT individuals. I've already been in talks with Dr. Liz Laugeson, UCEDD director and the creator of PEERS, to work on an LGBT-focused PEERS program for the future. And so, hopefully, within the next few years, I'll be able to start to develop some of that. I want to include self-advocates, gender-diverse, and neuro-diverse individuals in that process too.

How can what you learned as an AUCD emerging leader help you achieve those goals?

I think the connectedness has been very helpful. I've had so many effective mentors like Eric Kurtz, Director for the Center for Disabilities in South Dakota, through my time with LEND and now at this UCEDD. Having effective mentors has really helped me build some confidence as well as more practical skills. I've really been able to tap into a lot of those resources that so many people in my same training program might not even know are out there. I would say that the biggest thing for me is building those positive connections and positive mentorships. That is something that I certainly want to pay forward throughout my career is to find the people who are passionate about the work and get them to where they can be and bring out the best in them, and they're their leadership skills. I think that's the keyword in emerging leaders: yes, we're emerging, and we're still learning the skills, but we are leaders, and we can learn from leaders as well.

More Information

For more information on the AUCD Emerging Leaders Program, please get in touch with Mollie Blafer.  

Please send any questions, comments, related resources, or stories you would like to share to the URC team at AUCD.