By Tatum Mitchell | Staff Writer
Annually, the month of March is designated to celebrate intellectual and developmental disability awareness. On Baylor’s campus, a network of support strives to advocate for individuals with disabilities and promote inclusion.
Dr. Tonya Davis is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology. She said at Baylor, there are three main areas in which the department helps the community directly: teaching, service and research opportunities.
“I’d love to see us moving toward, as a culture, recognizing the gifts that [people with intellectual and developmental disabilities] bring to the table and wanting to find a way to be a more truly inclusive society,” Davis said. “That starts with providing services and education.”
The director of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities (BCDD), Dr. Kristen Padilla, said her position at the center is focused partially on helping kids with disabilities and families develop skills, while also increasing research productivity and leading faculty on initiatives. According to Padilla, the BCDD recently hosted a conference, the OSO ABLE Transition Fair, to educate the community about programs available after high school for individuals with disabilities.
“We have to increase awareness,” Padilla said. “We have to be accepting of people with individual differences. It enhances the diversity of our population, and we need to equip them like we do everyone else.”
Supporting businesses that are inclusive for people with disabilities is another way to raise awareness and be an advocate in the local community. Davis said making friends at these businesses and including people with disabilities in everyday life is a good step; she recommended supporting local organizations like Bitty & Beau’s Coffee and Challenger Little League.
Parker, Colo., junior Jenna York said one of her favorite parts of her job as a shift manager at Bitty & Beau’s is getting to know the staff members.
“It’s been really cool to see how they’ve changed since working there and how much more confident they are in themselves and other people,” York said. “I feel like they feel way more accepted now than they used to. That’s been my favorite part.”
Davis said watching and helping children with disabilities learn new skills and accomplish goals brings her a lot of joy. Best Buddies is another opportunity for people with disabilities and for Baylor students to get involved. Best Buddies is an organization that promotes friendship and development for individuals with disabilities.
“People with disabilities are an inspiring and wonderful group of people, and their families are as well; I’m sort of a visitor in their community, and they invite you in,” Davis said. “In terms of going and hanging out with people with disabilities, they’re a cool bunch of people.”
Davis said one of her driving forces is to provide a broad impact. Davis is coordinating a grant called Preparing Educators with Autism Knowledge and Skills (PEAKS) that provides professional development to Texas teachers.
“We’ve trained about 350 teachers at no cost,” Davis said. “We’re going all across Texas to provide service to teachers, which will eventually change and improve the educational benefits for their students.”
Clinical professor Dr. Kelsey Ragan coordinates the Baylor Autism Resource Clinic (BARC). She said they provide support at Baylor and in the surrounding communities as well.
“We’re trying to provide support in the community related to autism,” Ragan said. “I do a lot of training for people in school districts. We try to build awareness in the community and provide services for people with disabilities outside of Baylor.”
Ragan said the Office of Access and Learning Accommodation (OALA) is a resource at Baylor that provides transportation and learning support. She said that keeping accommodations in mind is an important part of being an advocate.
“I think as you become more aware of things, you realize where there might be a problem,” Ragan said. “Building your awareness and noticing things around you that might make something less accessible to someone with a disability and then advocate to make that a more inclusive environment.”