To better understand the conceptual framework of the ED&I Action Plan, it is first necessary to review the underlying components upon which the plan is based, including (a) UCEDD Core Functions; (b) previous and current AIDD investments; and (c) contributions and feedback from stakeholders. The conceptual framework for the Action Plan resulted from the integration of each of these components.
UCEDD Core Functions
As the ED&I Action Plan is aimed specifically at building the capacity of the UCEDD National Network, it is important to create a plan that utilizes the established structure of the network. Specifically, UCEDDs by statute are required to utilize four Core Functions to promote advocacy, build capacity, and create systemic change when addressing local and state needs. A brief overview of each Core Function is provided along with how the ED&I Action Plan proposes using each to promote change.
Interdisciplinary Preservice Preparation & Continuing Education
UCEDDs prepare graduate students and fellows from a variety of disciplines to serve individuals with I/DD and their families across the lifespan through providing direct services (clinical or community-based), conducting research, shaping policy, developing and administering innovative services and programs, working in government, and/or joining academic faculties in universities. Some UCEDDs meet this core function requirement through their interdisciplinary Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) training programs funded by the Maternal Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration, HHS, many of which are co-located with UCEDDs. The two aspects of UCEDD activities in this core function area related to the ED&I Action Plan are (a) CLC is a major focus of coursework and field experiences, and (b) most UCEDDs have genuine commitments to recruiting students from underserved racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups to enter I/DD and related fields. In addition, UCEDDs also provide continuing education for professionals in practice to stay current on new knowledge, skills, practice standards, and discoveries. An important topic for continuing education is to increase knowledge of the racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities in access to and utilization of services, underlying causes of disparities, evidence-based solutions to chronic disparities experienced by underserved groups, and advocacy for addressing the root societal causes of persistent inequities. In addition, UCEDD pre-service training programs can increase the diversity of students in these programs interested in conducting research that will inform methods to reduce disparities over time. That latter training focus coincides with the Research core function of UCEDDs.
Community Services, Demonstration Projects, and Technical Assistance
UCEDDs contribute to the service systems for individuals with I/DD by developing, field-testing, and demonstrating innovative services and supports. UCEDDs provide training and technical assistance to providers within and across an array of service systems (i.e., education, employment, criminal justice, early intervention, transportation, housing, etc.) to utilize evidence-based practices in support of individuals with I/DD and their families. And, UCEDDs serve as conveners, bringing groups together to forward shared agendas. This core function is entwined with many elements of the ED&I Action Plan because of diverse populations and communities that UCEDDs are required to serve. These activities have the potential for far-reaching impact to change systems as UCEDDs become more intentional about ensuring representation of individuals and families from underserved racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds.
UCEDDs conduct basic and applied research, program evaluation, and policy analysis to benefit individuals with I/DD across the lifespan and their families. A clearer and deeper understanding of the modifiable factors that contribute to disparities is an important aspect of this work. UCEDDs face three challenges in this area. First, they must expand their capacity to conduct community-engaged research. This type of research fosters collaborations with and among groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar identities with the goal of addressing issues that affect the wellbeing of the people within the group. One such method is community-based participatory research which includes (a) systemically and authentically including members of communities impacted by the research in all aspects of the research study, from providing input to the research design to the interpretation of the research findings and (b) assuring that study participants reflect the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of the state, territory, jurisdiction or tribal nation, as required by federal agencies and foundations. Second, there will be demands on UCEDDs to increase the diversity of the future research workforce. Third, UCEDDs will inevitably find that incorporating an ED&I lens into the research process will influence what we research and how we measure impact.
Dissemination of Information
UCEDDs also promote advocacy, build capacity of individuals, groups, and communities, and help to transform systems through the dissemination of information on the broad range of issues that impact the lives of individuals with I/DD and their families. Effective packaging and strategic dissemination of information describing the factors that contribute to disparities in access to services for underserved populations can positively affect statewide efforts to re-design services, and in some cases, transform systems. An emerging need is the effective distillation of information and research findings for diverse audiences, including those with I/DD from the culturally and linguistically diverse populations served by UCEDDs. There are two issues at play in the translation of findings. First is the concept of making research relevant to the populations of focus, which may include the use of “plain language” descriptions, as well as disseminating findings in community settings and in partnership with community members. The second is the need to literally translate documents and information into languages other than English in ways that are culturally responsive and accurate; this is an activity where it is critical to have community partners from culturally specific organizations engaged in the process. Finally, UCEDDs are well positioned to partner with the growing network of ethnic media outlets throughout the nation to disseminate disability information.