Diversity Fellow Project, Jennifer Chen

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Is your Network Diverse?: POG's Road to Diversity and Inclusion

Is your Network Diverse?: POG's Road to Diversity and Inclusion [download PDF]

Self-advocacy groups such as People On the Go of Maryland have identified a need to focus on diversity and cultural and linguistic competency as they expand their networks. This presentation details their partnership with the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities' Diversity Fellow and the process undertaken to initiate dialogue, examine needs, and continue future efforts.

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Project Narrative

1. Please describe your activities during your fellowship experience. Describe your final capstone project(s).
I was able to be a part of a variety of experiences that expanded my knowledge about disabilities, self-advocacy, services, and supports. At the beginning of the Fellowship, I attended the 2017 AUCD Conference and learned about the future direction of leadership, communication, training, and research in the disability community. I also participated in Developmental Disability Legislative Advocacy Day in Annapolis, Maryland, staff meetings of the Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities (MCDD), and a self-advocacy training lead by People On the Go of Maryland (POG) titled Project STIR. At the same time, I increased my knowledge about diversity and cultural and linguistic competency. This was achieved through meetings with leaders at MCDD, the Center for Diversity in Public Health at Kennedy Krieger Institute, and Georgetown University, as well as by taking on opportunities to lead discussions about increasing organizational-level diversity and cultural competence at MCDD's staff retreat on cultural diversity and POG's Quarterly meetings.

In addition to these experiences, I was engaged in a capstone project in which I partnered with POG to gather data and assess the number of individuals with disabilities from underrepresented groups in their state network of self-advocates. I focused on developing a variety of tools for POG to collect membership data and then used those tools to reach out to members across the state. Members and staff of POG and I also created a survey to assess experiences of discrimination in POG. Finally, I created a PowerPoint presentation documenting the process that POG and I took to develop these tools, which POG staff shared with other self-advocates at the Advocates Leading their Lives Network meeting in Minot, North Dakota.

2. Who did your project inform, help, influence or impact? (UCEDD, individual, community, state) How?
The capstone project helped POG in their work to create inclusive paths for self-advocates from under-represented or disadvantaged groups. Equipped with the data, I leveraged a web-based data management system to create a self-updating report of POG's membership breakdown. This report is used by POG to inform their reports to a key funder, the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, as well as guide future decision making. The informational sessions given by POG and PowerPoint that details the process of the capstone project also shows other self-advocates, or those interested, the methods, some examples, and the realities of conducting a similar data collection effort.

3. Why did you choose to work on that project(s)?
I was excited about the capstone project because it allowed me to work with people as well as data. I found that one of the most effective ways to reach out to the self-advocates in POG's network was by attending meetings and talking to members in person. The next best response rate was by speaking to members over the phone. I was able to meet many members of the disability community, which let me put a face to the valuable information that I was helping to gather.

4. What did you gain from being a Diversity Fellow?
Through this experience I gained an incredible amount of knowledge. Before, I wasn't familiar with AUCD and the national UCEDD network, but now I can direct other aspiring professionals in the disabilities field to opportunities such as this one or LEND. I developed hard skills building proficiency using Apricot, a data managing software, and Dedoose, a qualitative data analysis software. I also engaged many soft skills including organization, team-work, listening, and leadership. What I will cherish the most however, are the lifetime mentors, colleagues, and friends in the disabilities field that I now have and whom I hope to collaborate with again in the future.

5. How will this experience impact your education or career decisions?
This experience strengthened my resolve to understand and immerse myself in the communities that surround me. An important lesson that my capstone project taught me was that whether if it's services, resources, or tools, it's important to tailor them to suit diverse populations and individuals with varying needs. I am going to continue taking classes to build my data analyzation skills, but I will also pair it with health communication classes with the goal to make public health data and messages more accessible to the public.

6. What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
In 5 years from now, I hope to have graduated from my current MSPH program at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and be helping families in California. My future goal is to improve health systems by conducting program evaluation research for programs that impact maternal and child health. In addition, after being inspired by POG's advocacy work, I hope to join a breastfeeding coalition and advocate to eliminate barriers for post-partum mothers, including those with disabilities, to safely and confidently breastfeed their children.

7. What recommendations do you have for other Fellows?
When possible, collaborate. The UCEDD has a fantastic network of people who you shouldn't feel afraid to reach out to. I came in as MCDD's first Diversity Fellow and together we were able to create a Fellowship experience where everyone involved reached a goal of theirs surrounding growth in diversity and cultural and linguistic competency. Regularly scheduled check-ins also helped us stay organized and build stronger partnerships, making the experience even more rewarding. One last advice is to document your activities as you go. This will give you an accurate record of your work when you are reviewing your activities and you will be able to see how much you have been able to accomplish in a short period of time.

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