Miguel Morales

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Miguel A. Morales

Institute on Disability and Human Development
University of Illinois at Chicago, IL

Miguel A. Morales is the Assistant Director of Research and Training at Family Support Research and Training Center at the Department of Disability of Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago. He obtained a Master of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was previously the Northwest Side Community Programs Coordinator for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) and Program Manager at Community Organizing for Obesity Prevention in Humboldt Park (CO-OP: HP). His previous research efforts have included community based participatory research and health behaviors related to nutrition and physical activity.

Project Narrative

1. Please describe your activities during your fellowship experience. Describe your final capstone project(s).
I participated in a study titled “Longitudinal Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Study (LHIDDS).” The activities included recruitment, data cleaning and analysis. I also participated in the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities (ICDD) Executive Committee meeting as an attendee. I suggested to the committee chairs that they fund or support a new project, Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Among Illinois Children, a cross-sectional study that seeks to fill the gap in knowledge regarding ASD diagnosis, therapies and service use, knowledge about ASD, health care and socio-demographic characteristics of Illinois children diagnosed with ASD. This is an ongoing conversation, and the hope is that the ICDD will fund the study or identify funds. One of the research questions of the study is whether there are racial and ethnic disparities among children with ASD in the state of Illinois related to the age of diagnosis and services. Lastly, I coordinated the Family Support Research and Training Center, a research center funded by National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). We held three Principal Investigator and Partner meetings during the course of the Fellowship. I communicated with the PIs, scheduled meetings, oversaw logistics and often moderated the meetings.

Regarding my capstone project (LHIDDS), I attempted to study whether there were ethnic and racial health disparities among adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) using the baseline surveys of two cohorts. The results are preliminary because we still have yet to enter and clean the data collected from many of the surveys collected this year. I was able to analyze a sample of 2,071 participants (177 non-Latino Black adults and 1894 non-Latino White adults). I found that among United States adults with IDD, Black adults were more likely to report high blood pressure and diabetes compared to White adults, even after controlling for socio-demographic characteristic, residential status, insurance, health behaviors, employment, and day programs.

2. Who did your project inform, help, influence or impact? (UCEDD, individual, community, state) How?
My project, once the final analysis is conducted, will contribute to the research of racial and ethnic health disparities among people with IDD and will lead to uncovering and ameliorating the mechanisms for such disparities. As of this moment, there is little research on the intersection of race and IDD. Ultimately, the hope is to inform and impact interventions and policy that would decrease health disparities.

3. Why did you choose to work on that project(s)?
I have an interest in ethnic and racial health disparities stemming from my previous public health work in the Puerto Rican community in Chicago. Although most of that work entailed launching community and environmental interventions to prevent obesity, we conducted community-based participatory research to identify local factors for obesity. This work was informed by social determinants of health perspective that left an impression on me ever since, especially during graduate school. Subsequently, I went to work for the Cultural Context research lab at the Department of Disability and Human Development based on this perspective and research interests.

4. What did you gain from being a Diversity Fellow?
Being a Diversity Fellow gave me the impetus to continue a line of research that I began during my tenure as a LEND Fellow and allowed me to connect research to policy. For example, the ICDD mentioned above has a state plan. One of their goals is to improve systems for people with DD. The exposure to the ICDD led me to connect our research goals to this ICDD policy goal and ask for funding on our ASD research. As of late, the ICDD does not take unsolicited proposals, but they allow for a “Call for Investment” for future council funding. This is a potential opening for Cultural Context research lab and our partners.

5. How will this experience impact your education or career decisions?
I will continue to pursue health disparities and developmental disabilities through research, policy change and surveillance. Ultimately, I would like to be part of reimagining and rebuilding the developmental disability services system in Illinois so that children and adults can live in the community, be healthy and thrive.

6. What are your future goals? Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
My future goals are to obtain a Ph.D. in Epidemiology of Disability Studies with a focus on developmental disabilities and health disparities. I would also like to work in a public health department or research center conducting surveillance on developmental disabilities and assessing quality and impact of services from the standpoint of social determinants of health.

7. What recommendations do you have for other fellows?
Fellows should take advantage of the AUCD network to advance their career/research goals and create opportunities.

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