R. Alexander Acosta, Secretary of Labor, US Department of Labor
Mary Lazare, MS, Principal Deputy Administrator, Administration on Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Kimberly Richey, JD, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education
Linda Mastandrea, JD, Director, Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, Federal Emergency Management Agency
Moderator: Kara Ayers, PhD. Associate Director, University of Cincinnati UCEDD
I think people know me by now, but my name is Andy Imparato and I'm Executive Director of AUCD. And I'm friend of Alexander Acosta when he was the civil general attorney at the beginning of Bush Administration, and Secretary Acosta, in my view, is a model public servant who is 100% committed to bringing more people with disability into the labor force. He grew up in Florida. The child of Cuban immigrant went to Harvard undergraduate. Harvard Law School. Immediately before becoming the Secretary, he was a Dean of a law school down in Florida. I guess the thing I want to say about Secretary Acosta is he is a true public servant. He's not interested in being important. He's interested in making things happen. And when he was at the Department of Justice, he engaged with the business community in a serious way not to tell them how to comply with the A.D.A., but to talk with them how they could be leaders for employment of people with disabilities.
So without further ado, please join me in welcoming Secretary Alexander Acosta.
Andy, thank you for the kind introduction. It's so wonderful to be here with you and so many other friends. The Association of University Centers on Disabilities and its network is engaged in incredibly important work: helping ensure Americans of all abilities can reach their full potential and participate fully in our society. And I know there's so many people here that have been dedicated over their careers. And, so, the concept of public service is something I think shared by most in this room. So I really appreciate those words as you're introducing me.
You know, the most important part of participation I think is the dignity, the sense of accomplishment and the pride that comes with work. Work isn't just about a job. It's about who someone is in so many ways. And that's incredibly important. And, so, with the Department of Labor and especially at the Office of Employment Policy, we're working to integrate Americans of all abilities into all aspects of the workforce. And we do this by empowering them with the resources so they can work to succeed in the workplace for themselves.
And, so, from my perspective of the Department of Labor, there's several priorities, but there are 3 that are at the very top. Job creation. More job creation. And more job creation. [Laughter]
It's pretty simple. Every American should have access to a good family sustaining job. Since January, we've created as an economy 1.5 million jobs and those gains are all reflected among the Disability Community. The unemployment rate has declined by 3.2% over the past year.
Now, inclusive work --
[Applause] That's really good. 3.2% decline.
Now the inclusive work that strengthens our economy and nation, and it needs to be a great importance to job create creators and job-seekers alike so I want to talk about inclusiveness. Inclusion drives innovation. That was the theme for the disability awareness month. And it also happens to be true from my own experience. Inclusion drives innovation. Inclusion is a good thing. It can drive profit and innovation.
And Americans of different abilities bring different perspective and experiences to the workplace and that is positive. So when I was the assistant civic general and Andy made reference to this, number of restaurants didn't fully understand the needs of individuals who have visual impairments.
Now, sometimes in government, there's a tendency to immediately go to enforce. But if you step back, you say, did they really understand the needs? And did they understand what inclusion could do?
And, so, many restaurants entrepreneurs didn't think it through. And it's simple as printing a Braille menu that would change the business model. So at the time, I worked with an individual by the name of Craig Miller. And importantly also President of the national restaurant association. And our perspective was this. If someone is visually-impaired, and they're going out to dinner in a group, that group is going to defer, just out of the courtesy to provide access. And, so, something as simple as having a Braille menu is something as simple as being inclusive has business value. It drives profit. It drives innovation. If you stop and think how can I be inclusive? You are going to change things for the better and make money at the same time. And it's okay to do that. That's good.
And as a result, we went out, and we talked to the national restaurant association and we deployed staff around the nation. And all of a sudden, we had more access in restaurants. Now, disabled Americans don't just bring their own perspectives. They also bring incredible talent. Americans of all abilities can help complete and be stronger. An example of this early on when I served the Department of Justice, I met an individual incredibly talented. Some of you may know him and his name is Ollie. And he's a great lawyer. And he's a friend. And he just so happens to be blind. If he was here, he would say that he is not disabled. He just has a characteristic which is that he can't see.
Well, a few weeks ago, actually few months ago, I found out in this process, Ollie had adopted 3 boys and they're amazing boys and I caught up with Ollie and he invited me to speak where his boys would become Eagle Scouts. And becoming an Eagle Scout is not easy. All 3 boys were becoming Eagle Scouts and they mastered every badge and they worked hard to do that.
And, so, they were talking about the -- the scout master was talking about how they learned to tie knots. And the scout master was going to give them a pass of tying knots and they said, no. He was going to give them a pass because all 3 boys were blind. But they insisted learning it and doing it the right way. And, so, the fellow scouts would move the hand, in the way, I mean, how many of you can tie these knots, right? And they learned to do it by having their fellow scouts move their hands. And they did zip-lining. Imagine that. They did knot tying. They did hiking. They did everything. They did Whitewater rafting and they did this without being able to see.
When they spoke, something became incredibly apparent in the honor ceremony. They didn't consider their blindness a badge but a characteristic of who they were. Their accomplishments speak for themselves. One wants to become a lawyer. One wants to become an entrepreneur and they're on their way to school. If they choose to work for someone else, they might just start a business. But if they choose to work for someone else, they're going to be an incredible part of the team because look at all the work and dedication they brought to scouting. Imagine what they can do for an employer. So businesses benefit not just from different perspectives, but from the talented individuals with disabilities.
Now, as a former educator, I'm a big fan of education. And I think the path to employment begins with education. Work towards education, apprenticeship and internships. And the education that disabilities receive and the education they need to succeed. And I'll tell you, the classroom just like the workplace is strengthened by the Americans of all backgrounds. Higher education always placed a focus on developing student's mind to learn like lifelong learners. And that students are learning they need to succeed in the workforce.
So this is something I think is important for higher education. Lifelong learning and lifelong earning are not mutually exclusive.
In higher education, as they teach people to be lifelong learners should also focus on lifelong earners. And that's particularly important for individuals with disabilities who's employment is so important to who they are as people.
One of the things we're doing to focus on that is our apprenticeship initiative. As many of you know, apprenticeship drives innovation and they look to see where there is demand, what skills are being demanded, and then focus education in that direction.
The American companies want to hire and Americans are eager to work. But there's still an issue. Because we now have 6.1 million open jobs in our nation. If you look at higher education as a whole, about 2/3 in the great state school systems, about 2/3 of kids that start college finish college. They're about 1/3 down. So as higher education looks to develop curricula, the question is is the curriculum being developed that will teach individuals not just be lifelong learner and be lifelong earners and they stay in school and acquire schools that lead to jobs?
Now inclusive workforce is important for Americans, but it's just as important for job creators. These jobs are costing and Americans from performing in full committee and full potential. 2013 found that economic cost of unfulfilled job is $160 billion. Now, I can tell you if you break it down, there are more than one million job openings in healthcare. There's more than one million jobs in professional business services. 750,000 job openings in accommodation and food services. And 400,000 jobs in manufacturing.
Now, finding a job begins with a search and an application. And here's one area where sometimes we can see significant improvement. Because applying for a job can sometimes be a difficult experience for many Americans. It's not something that comes naturally to many. I remember as a boy helping out at one point my father write his resume. He hasn't written his resume forever and forever. And what do I put on here? It's an awkward experience. But for today, it's made a little easier for online application. But many Americans don't take advantage of the online tool that can make the online process a little bit easier for disabled Americans. And I should say, as a former blogger, how many universities can take advantage of the online tools to make the application process.
And the process for just contacting individuals in a university to say, I need extra help. I need help studying. I need a mentor to make it a little bit easier. So the web is a wonderful, wonderful tool. But it's something that needs substantial improvement. There's a survey in 2015 that popped up on unemployment and disability found that 46% of American seeker jobs with disabilities found it difficult or impossible to apply online. One out of two.
Today, that's not acceptable. The technology is there. And if you're going to be focusing on jobs, that's something that needs substantial work. So the partnership office of mutual call talent works help employers drive professional optimize online location. And it needs to be used more by employers. Burt quite honestly, it should be used by universities and it's not just the application process. It's all mechanism where students can contact university officials and say I need help, I need input.
The onus doesn't have to lie just on the job-seeker. American job creators can also take the initiative and seek out talent and educate individuals with disabilities for programs like the workforce recruitment program. Something we do at the department. Over the years, thousands of college students and recent graduates with disabilities have been matched up with great jobs. And employers have recruited great talent for this program. Inclusive work for Americans of all abilities can bring their talent and service to see bear. Sometimes it requires work accommodations. Now survey and the counter of accommodation provided 59% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make and this is an important point, because sometimes employers, when they hear "accommodation" oh, that's really expensive. 59% cost nothing.
It goes back to the experience at restaurants. Having a Braille menu is not that expensive. It really isn't. But it was easy to do once you're told how.
Other 41% of accommodations, that's the majority that would cost under $500. That's minimal. That's de minimus compared to the cost of recruiting a talented person compared to the increased productivity from someone that is thankful for having a job and says, I want to be part of your team.
So the bottom line is this. Technology is creating new capacity and talent of all employees of all abilities. And I say all abilities, because at one point, I forget but someone pointed out we're all temporarily abled and at some point, we're all going to have some disability, right? So let's just call ourselves people of all abilities.
So the bottom line is this. The iPhone we all have it and we all have our Smartphones. It can translate one language from another. But it can also provide incredible individuals who are visually-impaired, or other individuals to be more efficient employees. The barriers are rapidly falling. So as technology advances and accommodation falls, it should be easier and easier to create inclusive work environments.
So where am I going with all of this? We've got really good optimistic news from an economic perspective. Employment is way up. Unemployment rates for Americans are at record low. 4.1% the lowest in 17 years.
Employment rate for individuals with disability has fallen disproportionately. Much more so than for the general population and so your efforts helping Americans of all abilities to reach their full potential and participate fully is important.
But it's only a start. It's important to help them become not just lifelong learners but lifelong earners. It's important to help them develop skills that will be in demand by the modern workplace. Internships. Experiences where they actually learn not just doctrine, but they learn the soft skills of employment I would argue is particularly important for individuals with disabilities as they learn to fully integrate into a workplace as incredibly talented individuals that's bringing a lot to their employers.
It's also important for employers to partner up. And as you reach out to some employers and as you communicate with businesses, and you do, everyone does. it's important to make them aware of these incredible talents and to make them aware that accommodations are not onerous and that at the end, inclusion brings perspective. It makes sense. It's going to help the individual. It's going to help the employer. And as a society, if everyone feels not just they have a job, but they have a career path, we're all going to be better off.
And, so, I want to thank you for what you do. You know, as I was reading my notes here say we'll continue to help more than 700,000 American job-seekers with disabilities. And I want to take issue with that. You because it's not the 700,000 job-seekers with disabilities, it's all the individuals with disabilities that are not yet job-seekers, right? Because there are a lot more here.
And, so, inclusion means reaching out to those that aren't in the workforce. And this is incredibly important and your help is crucial.
And, so, helping them find the right place in the workforce. Helping to put their talent to work. Helping them bring their perspective and bring their value is a mission and I thank you for it and I thank you for your efforts. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you so much Secretary Alexander Acosta. Secretary Acosta needs to get out of the building quickly so I ask people to be respectful of his schedule. So if we can have the next panel make their way up. Secretary Acosta, our sponsor for this part of the event was J.P. Morgan Chase, Rodney Hood is from here from J.P. Morgan and he's been a great partnership. So thank you so much.
So Kimberly Richey and Mary Lazare and Linda, if you want to come up. That would be great. And I want to turn it over to Dr. Kara Ayers who is the associate director for unite of excellence at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Please join me in welcoming them.
All right, thank you Secretary Acosta. He's on his way out but I'm appreciative of his time and I'm sure our attendees is as well. Talking about the priority of the Labor Department and also bringing more disability into the workforce. I'm excited about it. today's panel. Thank you, Andy, for the introduction. I'm from the university and Cincinnati. I'll be moderating today's panel, when you sat down on your seat, there should have been some blank note cards. Pull them out and get ready to write on them. So our AUCD staff will be around to gather those. And we'll have a few questions together as a panel and then get your questions from the audience. So first panel to my left is Mary Lazare, principal deputy of administrative at the administration on community living at the Department of Health -- oh, gosh. Sorry. Pause.
Yes. Health and human services. I'm sorry. Mary has an extensive career in long-term care and operations which was previously Vice President for home community base services for senior services. Next to Mary is Kimberly Richey. Deputy of assistant Secretary and acting assistant Secretary in the active education and rehabilitative services in the U.S. Department of Education.
Kimberly is an attorney who specialized in education law and prior to joining the department with Managing Director of federal advocacy if public policy at the national school Board association. Next to Kimberly is Linda Mastandrea. Director of The Office of Disability integration and coordination at FEMA. Linda has focused her legal practice on much of her career on disability and Civil Rights. And bringing inclusive emergency management process to see her work.
So we have a few questions today for all the panelists. And we also have an individual question as well. So let's get started.
If you could share, what are your early priorities by a pointed leadership in your agencies and what are some ways as we can support your priorities? Do you want to start?
Sure. Well, first of all, within HHS we have 3 priorities that's been identified by the Secretary. First is the opioid crisis and attending to that issue. Second is certainly looking at childhood obesity and how do we prevent that.
And then third, addressing serious mental illness. So we, as an agency, look at that in addition to four, now fifth as of last week pillars that have been identified by our assistant Secretary Lance Robertson. And those include supporting families and caregivers.
We look at providing access, resources, and information. Getting in the systems. And we're looking at the business acumen relative to our community-based organizations. Helping them understand how to find sustainability and longevity and dealing with healthcare organizations and others that may be interested in their services.
And then four, why am I for getting my fourth one all of a sudden?
[Away from mic]
Thank you very much, Andy. [Laughter] And that is prevention, abuse, and neglect and that is a big issue for us. All of those area, we're focusing attention and we'd be happy to address that. I want to give you time as well to identify yours.
Thank you for the question and the invitation to be here this morning. I have only been at the Department of Education since the end of June. And, so, I still feel like I am in my honeymoon period. But last month, the Secretary released in the federal registrar, and this is out in the four comments but he has a priority out that the department will take into consideration for the fiscal year 2018 grant opportunities. And there are several priorities included in that draft document that really support serving individuals with disabilities throughout the continuum of their lives all the way from infant see from IDEA all the way through transitioning into postsecondary opportunities, and employment.
There are several areas where I think that my office can partner with centers. But there is one particular priority in that that I feel is ripe right now for us to look at. One of the priorities that's included in the Secretary priority is issuing every child has a qualified teacher, and really focusing on quality instruction in the classrooms.
And as I'm sure most of you know, within OSEP, we have large priority for our office is really making sure we use our personnel development grant under IDEA to make sure teachers are not only that we're increasing the number of special education teachers, but also special education teachers are qualified in the classroom. So we support that 8,000 individuals as they go through the process of becoming special education teachers.
And I really feel like that's an area where we can partner with centers moving forward. There's two things we want to do, right? We want to make sure that we are using evidence-based strategies in classrooms. And we want to pay for what works, and we want to share what works, right? And I think that's where centers can come in really, and really serve a unique purpose in helping OSER in teacher instruction and preparation and not only issues with retention and recruitment, but focusing on quality instruction and making sure people are qualified to teach our children, specifically children with disabilities.
Good morning, everyone. And I want to thank Andy for inviting me this morning. In terms of FEMA, overall, the Agency's priority is to help Americans prepare for, respond to, recover from, and mitigate against disasters and emergencies. And that's in the largest global sense. More particularly, for people with disabilities, the emphasis of the administration and priority is to enable individuals with disabilities to better understand their role as part of the emergency management community, their individual responsibility to prepare for and plan, and their capacity to be part of that responder community and the ability to engage with your emergency management community to communicate their needs and to have those needs met in the context of emergency and disaster. And, of course, that's been quite prevalent over the last couple of months with the series of hurricane and wildfires that we've had.
In terms of how the UCEDD can partner with FEMA, there's so much opportunity right now to look at what went well, what didn't go as well as as we would have liked and where the opportunities are to do better. And, so, I think there's an opportunity to engage in research, to engage in the after action learning, to sit down and plan together so that we can do things better going forward.
The administrator has really kind of a bold vision to reshape FEMA and how we do business. And that is really looking at the Federal government in very much a supportive role versus sort of the active first responder that we've been in some of the situations in over the last couple of months.
So what we're really looking at is developing the capacity at the state level and local level which includes every one of us in the room. For each one of us to understand our roles and responsibilities, to get involved, to get engaged, and to then be able to say that, you know, when a disaster happens, it's really handled at the most local level with the state responding as they can, and then when the state's capacity is exhausted, then the Federal government comes in to support.
And, so, we're looking at, for example, setting up what the administrator is calling "state integration teams." And my vision is that we have disability integration coordinator embedded in the state integration team across each and every state so we can better embed and inculcate, if you will, the needs of individuals with disabilities across all of our territories, states, regions, and cities.
Thank you, Linda. And thank you, all,. That gives us a specific strategy that centers can do to support the priority. So my next question for you, mayor AUCD was created in the theory of aging and disability together would create synergy that wasn't happening before. I wondered how do you see alignment of these two communities and what are some of your approaches in bridging the gap between the two cultures.
It's a great question. We have have been ACL since 2012 and atmosphere the administration of disability and administration of aging and it's been the two agencies. And people are holding on to the legacy and the activities of one center. And the other doing the same.
And, so, what you have over time is, we have the ability moving forward to create that synergy. So our focus is not looking at aging and not looking at disability, but looking at the person.
And, so, that's where we find that synergy. As we look at the person, and we look at our mission, which is helping people remain independent, thriving, vibrant in the community. So if we're doing that, then we're addressing the person's needs, not just what are the aging needs? What are the disability needs? But what are the needs of this individual to be able to remain in the community? So how do we pull this together?
Just even as an example, part of this comes from statute and funding. When I first came to the Agency ACL, I was told, now, some people are going to react if you talk about aging too much. The disability population is going to be upset. And the disability population says if you talk too much about aging, they're going to be upset. So we want to make sure our focus is "person-centered."
Synergy in the realm of we have regional operation by statute and the funding I'm addressing. Because a lot of that has come from Americans older act. And, so, a lot of their technical advice, a lot of their involvement has been around aging. So how do we take the great expertise we have within our agency around people with disabilities and inform and educate as well as the people in our regional operations around the needs with people with disabilities?
It certainly has been a learning experience going through this with Harvey, Irma, and Marie. Relative to these disasters and the regional operation folks learning from the close association they have within ACL about the needs of people with disabilities, and certainly, they have already had some expertise around aging. That's just an example where we intend to put some focus on assuring that people within ACL speak about people who have needs to live in the community.
So just from a regional operations perspective, that's one we are, as a group, when you're together in an organization and you're meeting, you're going to learn just from people having conversation and learning. So that synergy is created as well. So I think what's most important is we're addressing our mission of ACL, which is not necessarily different from what these two centers of expertise bring to ACL, but we all begin to focus about person-centered support, what are their needs? What are their goals? And how do we address them to remain in the community?
THE MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you. Kim, my next question is for you. So you received a lot of feedback recently, OSER with the document. Hopefully, many of us have also followed up on that that the document that were rescinded didn't result in any policy change. My question is related to, could you fill us in on the process and how are decisions made on which document to rescind?
I appreciate you bringing it up. Particularly with the 72 document that we mostly rescinded, what I would say, and my honest answer is that the process was particularly simple. Career scout within OSER started looking at guidance as far as back May and June. And their first task right out of the box was to just look at guidance that is no longer in use by the field. Either because the law has been changed with the recent passage of WIOA and IDEA and issues addressed in the guidance document have since been put into the department's formal regulation. Or because OCR has issued subsequent guidance that supersede all the older guidance documents. So as far as what that process looks like, the entire analysis really just focused on what is no longer used by the field? What is no more or no longer informing the services we're providing to children with disabilities? Or what is no longer informing how we're helping individuals with disabilities secure employment outcome?
So we sent out the announcement. We were able to have a conference call two or three days after the original announcement. I also like, there's a little bit of confusion about what those 72 documents actually covered. I know I've had several phone calls and several meetings with folks wanting to talk through some of those guidance documents. I think one of the biggest misconception is still that regulations were affected in that first announcement.
Which I'm sure most people know would actually would not even legally be permissible. The department has to go through the procedural process with formal regulations. So at least with regard to those initial 72 documents, it really was limited to, let's identify what nobody is using. Let's identify what is no longer informing services in the field. And OSEP, Office of Special Education program has never gone through the process of clearing the decks sort of speak with regard to guidance documents. So that's why you saw so many documents from the 1980s and '82, and '83 because OSEP never gone through the process of cleaning the document out. So that guidance was really limited to outdated guidance that is no longer in use.
And truly, I can say it was not and did not involve any policy decisions at all. Which means the service that is we provide to individuals with disabilities will not be affected in any way.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Linda, my next question is for you. So I believe you're the newest one in your position with us.
Since October 1. Nice.
THE MODERATOR: There's a move factor in there and everything. So I know you bring a rich background to your position and we were kind of laughing about this before the panel in terms of the question of what brings you to this position? Not meaning why would you take this job? [Laughter] But in a diplomatic way, what brings you to this system?
Thank you for that question. So, yeah, I started my career in the disability Universe of peer counselor for a Center for Independent Living in Newport Virginia actually a year or two ago, shall we say? And from there, I became program manager at a Center for Independent Living in Chicago suburbs and it was during that time the Americans with Disabilities Act happened. And that really inspired me to go to law school and shift gears and pursue a career in law. And for the next year or two, I have practiced in various facets of disability law from education to public accommodations, to being legal counsel for our state climate assistant program in Illinois. And all across the range.
And, so, I didn't grow up saying, boy, I'd really like to get into emergency management some day. But about 5 years ago, an opportunity presented itself based on conversations I had with some folks doing work in emergency management and needed expertise in disability issues and they brought me on and over the course of the next 5 years, I did several projects with them and I really got to know that subject area very well and how it fit in with the disability Universe I have been working with and where the needs were and how I can bring expertise to that. Couple of years ago then, I became a reservist with FEMA doing integration work and spent about the last year-and-a-half solidly deployed all over the country and got to learn not only from this sort of esoteric level about law and regulation and how it works together, but really how things worked on the ground. And that really excited me and got me interested in all the possibilities there was in this area. There's a lot of good stuff happening, but there's certainly a lot still to be done.
And when the opportunity to take this position came up, I was super excited, because to me, it's the next logical step. And I have a chance to take my legal background, the steps that I've learned over the last couple of years being deployed and put it all together to really help advance the Agency and FEMA's work on behalf of people with disabilities.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. I'm glad you're there. So Linda and Mary, you both mentioned the state focused and regional focus of the work you've done. And I wonder from all 3 of you, what work of the governors and you said through the lens of the other centers, what state work we can do? What is your relationship and work like with your governor or governors?
With my governor? I was going to say. Well, certainly, with governors, we look at the states from ACL and know when we're issuing grants and so forth. We know that governors have the right and the responsibility to determine what's going to occur in their states.
So what we like to do certainly is make them aware that the UCEDD is part of higher education. It's a natural opportunity for them to find fabulous resources and information and guidance. And, so, that's hopefully is a -- and for new governors well, we would encourage certainly that is an available resource to all of them.
In terms of working with governors, we look at ourselves as partner. And, so, what someone may reach out to us for, we certainly, we try to make available to them whatever resources are needed, technical assistance, anything relative to that. So it's more in terms of what is their desire and their needs identified by them? We're their partner to help them address anything relative to the areas of disabilities.
As we talked about our pillars that we were just describing a moment ago, we certainly like to make sure through our aging and disability networks that they are well-informed, they have resources that they need, and that they're communicating what they have and what their issues are. So that governments within states are aware of needs, of resources, of what they have available. So it's that kind of partnership. But it probably doesn't go further than that in terms of something formal. But it's that we're readily available to serve as a partner to our states.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
So I think from an OSEP perspective, I would reiterate a lot of Mary's comment. Our office historically has done a good job supporting state leaders both within state legislatures and those elected officials within states. It's really trying to help them work through different issues that they're facing within their individual states respectively. So, obviously, the challenges in Montana are going to be different than the challenges in New York. And we very much view our work with governors as being that supportive type of role. We really are focused on trying to help find flexibility to help them accomplish the goals they need to accomplish within their states to really support individuals with disabilities.
So, I think on the IDEA side, you know, we provide a lot of technical assistance and this is what we're facing. These are our questions about IDEA. And help us work through these issues. On the RSA side, with the recent passage of WIOA which actually puts the governor in charge of good night a few decision that is have to be made regarding funding and centers. You know, I think that we are in the initial phases of kind of working our way through that. It's obviously a new law that we're still in the initial implementation phases of. And, so, I think we're kind of feeling our way on the RSA side to determine how we can be most helpful to those elected officials and really support them as they try to make those decisions under WIOA.
So, in terms of FEMA, there's sort of two ways that we work with governors. One is in the context of active disaster, of course, which really starts at the local level when, you know,, for example, when Houston was affected by Harvey, when their resources with exhausted, they went the to the state and requested an emergency declaration. The governor then issues that request to the Federal government. And then we begin to partner, you know, in that response.
And, so, that's sort of in the active disaster way that we work with the governors. During that sort of frame, it's really up to the governor to set sort of the parameters of how they want FEMA support to look, what they need from FEMA, how we can support them. But in terms of serving people with disabilities, it's really been sort of the Office of Disability integration role to work through the federal coordinating officer at the disaster to educate on the role of disability and integration can play, how we can help them improve services to survivors with disabilities, and how we can ensure that the programs and services of FEMA and the state remain accessible across-the-board.
So that's sort of in the active disaster mode. In the non-active disaster mode, you have the generic mitigation sort of thing and working across the nation to help states, again, on the preparation side, being ready to prepare for and respond to disasters.
And, so, there's lots of, you know, grant funds and things like that that FEMA awards to states to develop programs, to improve their capacity to respond. And, so, that's sort of the ongoing day-to-day work when we're not sort of in this 60 to the 90-day frame. So that's the regular work that happens.
And going back to one of my earlier comments, I think we're going to see a little bit of a difference going forward when we look at the implementation of these state integration teams. So there will be a much more dedicated presence at the state level, again, to ensure on the front-end that states really have the capacity that they're prepared and ready to respond and lessening sort of the need for federal intervention and resource when there's disasters.
THE MODERATOR: So it's a proactive approach.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Mary, jumping back to employment, Secretary Acosta kicked us off with a lot of exciting ideas and many have been celebrating as well as ACL the national disability employment month. And, so, you have lots of opportunities to see research around employment. Is there something you've recently seen that instruct, you, as innovative or exciting? It could be anything small or large and you found interesting.
So we have been -- if I can do a commercial break for a second? [Laughter] This is my commercial break. And that is that we did have an event that culminated in the disability employment awareness month in partnership with ODEP. And that was a great opportunity for us to partner. Yeah. So it was great opportunity for me to hear the Secretary today address more of their initiatives and great things that are going on.
When I'm thinking about, well, what particular program research is out there, I want to talk about two things real short and then mention -- I'll give you another commercial break.
So one, we've been conducting some longitudinal studies around developmental, people with developmental disabilities in employment. And as the Secretary mentioned today, there's been some progress of recent, but from our perspective, not tremendous progress overall. Excuse me and I mention that, because just recently, we had a conversation in terms of statistics and data and how that drives focus and activity going forward. And you don't always want to come out there and say, well, we haven't really moved the needle much on that. But it's important for us to do that. Because when we say this has not advanced well, it puts more focus on that. And it tells us that's where you need to go. So in terms of research, I mention that because it's not great outcome, and I think that's, to me, the most unique thing about some of the research that I've looked at is here's one that has some ongoing success, but not really taken it highly to the next level. And I mention that because that's a focus we need to give more attention to.
So I bring that up. Another one is certainly one that grantees are working on in terms of people with disabilities and psychiatric illness, mental illness in terms of employment and what kinds of accommodations, not only for a disability relative to intellectual or physical disability, but what other accommodations can be made for people with mental illness to keep them in the workforce. And another commercial I was going to bring up, probably I'm singing to the choir or whatever, and I'm not new as you, but new to the end of June in terms of coming onboard, but I am a sibling of a person with a developmental disability. And when I came to ACL and I became familiar with NARIC, I'm one of those people that said I never knew this was out there. I wish I had known. Which is again, one of our pillars. We need to make sure people are not saying, I never knew there was this resource.
And, so, NARIC is a resource, online portal. www.NARIC.com. Which has all kinds of research projects, publications, articles, resources for people that comes out of ACL. And on an ongoing basis, it talks about the research projects that have been done that are ongoing, provides tremendous resources. And it's focus is how do we help people with disability in real applicable ways?
Not just cellular, which is also important for biology and research, but things that can be used day-to-day to help people with disabilities. So I want to make sure, when I have an opportunity to share that, I want to make sure people are aware of it.
THE MODERATOR: That's a great resource. Thank you. My next question relates to me and many of us in the room for self-advocacy and really igniting that early in the process. So Kim, I wonder if you can share how OSEP integrates and the ideas that you have for sparking that desire for advocacy often?
It's a great question. And you know, I've mentioned the short time period that I have been within the department.
But one of my first priority out of the gate was really to meet with various stakeholder groups that really focus on advocacy and training families and children with disabilities on how to advocate for themselves.
And I think OSER has a long-standing history of making that a key, making that a key priority moving forward. And I certainly view it as valuable and key moving forward and it certainly is going to be a priority for us moving forward. I think our best resources are probably our existing parent technical centers. And their PC that we have our there that we engage with constantly to make sure parents and families, and individuals, and children all have the tools they need to be able to advocate on their behalf. You know, part of it is education. Right? What are my rights? What are the tools that I need to be able to advocate on my own behalf? And I feel like that's kind of the key question, right? That we need to focus on moving forward.
To really make sure that people have all the tools in their toolbox they need to be able to advocate on their on behalf. So utilizing those existing, not just the technical center, but our Parent Centers here and PCs, making sure they have those tools and resources. And honestly, one of the reasons why I think it's so important for me to meet with advocacy groups, and that's when I first met Andy. And AUCD was one of the first groups that I met with out of the gate. And one of the reasons why that's so important to me, because I want to hear what's going on on the ground. I want to hear from people in the field and people on the front lines are facing, and what they're dealing with so that that can help us in our training, in our Parent Centers, and in our outreach to families and to kids.
And, so, I certainly see it as an important collaboration. And I think the feedback that I get from you all is what drives our efforts to inform advocacy moving forward.
THE MODERATOR: That's great to hear. Thank you. Linda, we were speaking a little bit about how it's been such a busy time for you to start. So, we know that right now, you're very much in recovery mode and much of what you're doing, but our centers have the ability to think forward as well. And, so, what strategies or what hopes would you have for centers to look at proactive approaches of what we could do prior to a disaster? And this could range from trainings to information sharing, to research. What do you think would be helpful to really prepare communities related to disabilities and disaster preparedness?
That's a really great question and all of those things. But administrator said we as a nation need to build as a culture of preparedness. And we haven't really had that to date. And in order to do that, again, each of us have to take responsibilities for our piece on that. We like to say at FEMA, we're all emergency managers. Sounds a little interesting, right? But it's really true when you think about it. And, so, what does that mean sort of in a real day-to-day sort of approach and what can you do? You know, it's sort of means that each of us has to have ourself ready and have the supplies we need for them we have to shelter in place for 3 to 4 or 5 days. If we have to evacuate. It's thinking about all the things you need from supplies to your wheelchair, catheter, and hearing aids, sir rings, and supplies and food and having a kit ready when you have to evacuate. And having clothes and all your supplies and meds that you need.
It means having a communication plan in place for you and your family. If you get separated, how do you find each other? How do you communicate? Look at in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, with self power not in existence, how would you find each other? So it's important to sit down if talk through these things in advance for them a evacuation is called for, where do you go? Where is your nearest shelter and is it accessible? These are things you need to know in advance. And it means having insurance. And one of the things we see time and, again, in disaster, people lose things because they don't have the capacity to buy insurance or they didn't think they needed it. So having an insurance on your personal property or your home, that's the important to the extent that you can. And being active in your communities. All of our communities have community emergency response team or CERT teams. And, so, that basic community level response for emergency and disaster. And that's one of the things that centers can help with, helping folks engage in their local communities, finding who is my emergency manager? How do I engage with them? Do they have a CERT team? What is their engagement with folks in the Disability Community? If it's not there, help us set it up. Because it's only in partnership with the emergency managers and the Disability Community that we can really effectively serve each other, right? Because emergency managers don't want to leave people respond. First Responders don't get into it to leave people behind. They want to make sure people are saved and they're safe. So they may not know how to help someone with my particular disability. So creating that partnership, we'll be better served. And I think that's something that centers can help with education and outreach with personal preparedness. Education and outreach with how to engage with your community. Education and outreach on how you get involved and what to do when you evacuate. And all these different levels, I think there's just endless opportunities. So I look forward to explaining that further.
THE MODERATOR: We definitely hear it's ongoing work.
Absolutely. And it's the one thing, it's a good and a bad thing.
Can I interject on that note. I think it's fabulous that you are part of FEMA. And I must thank FEMA for the tremendous work you all have been doing over the last several months from HHS perspective and the Secretary operation center. Everyday, we have people feeding from our grantees, we have people feeding information that we share with FEMA. And they have reached back out and we have within rescue and recovery task force within HHS, they have now asked for our expertise on disabilities, and as well on older adults to spend 30 days in the sack on a daily basis addressing that information that's coming in and providing technical assistance and information to them. So I think this is a great step forward in the right direction that they're in. You're part of this, and they're reaching out and asking us to spend time there. So we've dedicated two people to be there for a month to be part of this. So yet another commercial I'm saying. There's many thanks to FEMA for your work and outreach to include older adults and children, adolescents adults with disabilities.
You guys really have done an amazing job on that. I'm from Corpus Christi and I had two cousin that were away from their home because of flooding. We actually had a work group before the hurricanes hit with FEMA representative on them with the being in tune with the individual needs with disabilities. And the inter-coordination has been phenomenal. Just last week, we had a call with FEMA employees connecting FEMA with our Parent Centers so that we could push information, FEMA's information out through our Parent Centers to families and with who have children with disabilities. It really has been an amazing effort.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. So we have a few questions from the audience. And, so, any of you or all of you can choose to answer this if it applies. First one is related to gun violence. This is tied to disability in many ways. Victims of gun violence related to life disabilities. And person with a mental disability with a roll back of band with guns with a person with mental illness. What role might federal policymakers may play and moving the gun laws?
I'm not sure.
Very interesting. [Laughter]
Sorry, I try to help.
First of all, it's a great question. The events of the weekend are tragic. And, obviously, our hearts go out to the people in Texas. But I think the question is probably what exactly we need to think about right now. I definitely don't have an answer right now.
I can't say I have an answer either. I think it's clearly something we need to address and work on together, you know, at every level.
I think that, you know, as I'm thinking about the question, I don't know if I'm aware of all the ramifications of that question, but I guess I would say that I don't see a person with a disability being different than the general population in terms of addressing that question.
And I'm not going to address that question at this point in time, but prevention abuse. We certainly know people with disabilities are more -- they're target and higher preponderance of abuse and neglect and so forth. So I think from that end, we can certainly address that. But that's got to be a focus and I know it's a focus across all Federal government. But I don't know I'm separating. And I may be, not knowing all the fact of the question, I don't know if I'm separating people with disabilities from the general population relative to that.
THE MODERATOR: Okay.
Start with an easy one.
THE MODERATOR: Sorry. Yes. They're going to get easier. All right. Kim, this is a question for you related to disproportionately regulations. So recently, we've learned that OSER and this is an important role for people of color inappropriately referred to special education. Can you give us some insight on this regulation and just some discussion on your thought around the disproportionately.
Thanks, obviously, the Secretary I myself, there's no lack of commitment to addressing the issue. And upholding IDEA vision related to significant disproportionately.
You know, obviously, I think it's unfortunate that the document was leaped couple of weeks ago for a lot of reasons.
Number one is that our discussions had evolved so much by the time that the leak actually occurred that what we were contemplating and the issues that we were trying to discuss internally had evolved so much from what is out there in the public. The other reason why I regret that the leak occurred is because I was looking forward to talking myself to our disability stakeholders that we work with, and talking to them about the issue before it happened. Yeah, before everything was obviously was disclosed externally.
And, so, I regret that I was not apprised of that opportunity to talk to stakeholders directly about what the issues that we are concerned about.
I think the bottom take away, and I want to be very clear is that we are committed to addressing the issue. We began looking at the regulation as a part of the regulatory review task force. So the same effort where we addressed the guidance that was recently rescinded.
And part of that feedback in the listening session we received from the state was that they need more time to implement the existing regulation. And that's really what started this discussion.
And, so, what, you know, obviously, as is reflected by what was leaked, what we were talking about whether states need that opportunity? And the other thing I want to point out is that we were trying to grapple with the best way to get feedback from the public, including states, on what is best? How can we help states address this? Do they have the tools they need to address significant disproportionately? Is the regulation actually going to address significant disproportionately? But it really was focused on states having the capacity, the resources, and the ability to come into compliance by next summer that really drove. And really, like I said, came out as a regulatory review task force. So as I've mentioned, I regret that I lost the opportunity to get together with our stakeholders. We're still thinking about what's the best thing for our kids. You know the question that the Secretary always asks on any of the meetings when we have issues on OSER, that's what is driving the decision. But obviously, it's still a deliberative process. We're still kind of going through that to try and determine what the next steps are.
THE MODERATOR: The initiative is still there and very important.
Absolutely. Very important.
THE MODERATOR: Linda, we have a question related to the post-Katrina format of 2006. We have a very informative audience. So this requires for people of disabilities to be part of federal response. Can you give us a specific example of how your office has included people with disabilities in the Puerto Rico and virgin island response. Where food distribution plan for people with disabilities in mind?
That's a great question. So, yes, KAMRA and this includes people with disability and preparedness planning and to that end, the Office of Disability integration was created as a result of that act. And the prior administration and they still exist today. And the office has grown from a staff of one in the beginning to now what I oversee which is a staff of 10 at headquarter and 120 reservist and core employees who are pretty much all deployed right now across the nation and territories at the moment.
So in terms of how the needs of folks with disabilities are integrated and in particular, the question related to food distribution plans in Puerto Rico, we have what are called disability integration advisors who are tasked with being with the senior officer and coordinator officer. And we have a disability integration lead in Puerto Rico right now. So she is the primary point of contact and advisor to the federal coordinating officer to ensure the response in Puerto Rico is inclusive and acceptive of people with disabilities. And her involvement and staff in Puerto Rico, the other advisors is to work with various program component, be it sheltering, feeding, distribution of commodity, water, the housing mission, evacuation of people off the island, and everything in between to ensure that we have input and to ensure that the program and services are accessible for people with disabilities.
And to the extent there are things that go awry, I would hope that is communicated to us so we addressed going forward. As I've mentioned, nothing is perfect but we strive for that. But every disaster give us an opportunity to learn what goes well, what goes less well and what we can do better and one of the things we've done very well, this point, as Mary pointed out is the interagency partnership. And I want to commend HHS for their work. We had a great partnership with them getting folks to meet the dialysis off the Puerto Rico and virgin island and get safely to the continental of United States and get all the help and wrap around services they need to be safe. And ultimately, when Islands are rebuilt to return home. So that's a really positive thing that come out of this that we learned as agencies, how to collectively work together to efficiently and effectively serve folks with disabilities.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. That's great. So I have an update for your commercial, Mary. So just an update to the web address is NARIC.com.
Can you send that to me? [Laughter]
THE MODERATOR: And Mary, I have a question for you from the audience related to home and community base services for some advocates can feel complex or intimidating. How do you in simple terms to help for advocates and family members, and really to general can wrap their head around in.
Well, that's a good question. Yes. A very good question. Let's see if I can do this.
Home and commune based services. How can would I simplify so other impacts of disciplines can understand it?
Boy, that's a really good question. How can we simplify that? We need to address that these are services that are designed to keep people out of an institution where they would like to live. It may be in their own home singularly. It may be living with two or three other people. But the idea is that home and community-based is where this person wants to live out in the community.
And I guess I'm still trying to wrap my head around how to respond to make it simpler. Because that's a difficult question. The answer to how to make it simpler.
THE MODERATOR: I think you've done that. Yeah.
Do you think that's enough? You know, it's still difficult for people to understand who are -- and I came from a provider world. So I'm on the institutional side. Hospital, nursing home, assisted living and so forth. And, so, there is often a disconnect between that and supports. And, so, it's the services part. I think we can understand a home. But those community-based services are often what is difficult to explain. And what's so important is that from a healthcare perspective, there are things you can provide. And we understand that and usually go to that in a place, and they come to you. But when you're in home and community-based, it's how are you bringing services to people that keeps them there and out of the institution?
So I don't know if that's answering the question well enough. But --
THE MODERATOR: I think it is. Yeah. An ongoing challenge to make it more accessible for people to understand so we can all work towards implementing it, I think. Kimberly, I have a question for you related to inclusion. You mentioned OSDR focused on personnel and given the full inclusion with peek with disability and inclusion. Tell us with OSDR is doing to ensure the quality of general education and how that would impact students with disability.
That is an amazing question. Two out of two. That's good. So it is so interesting that you're asking this question now, because I just I had two or three meeting last week on that very issue. And it came up internally with regards to literacy. Which is something that I'm very passionate about.
We know that if you are not proficient by the end of the 3rd grade, you're more likely to dropout of school. If you live in poverty, you're 6 times more likely to dropout. And one of the ways that this came up specific to literacy is that I very much view this as a general education issue. Right?
So the feedback that I get from teachers is I need help in how I teach reading. I need help in making sure that my kids in my classroom know how to read. Because from a teacher's perspective, based on the feedback I get, right? Is that if you have a struggling learner, too quickly, we identify them as being a candidate for special education. Right?
So one of the things that I really am looking, and that's just one example. But one of the things I'm really looking at right now is how can what we're doing in OSDR help general education and how children in general education learn? We invest ton of money in practices that I believe, not only benefit kids with disabilities, but also benefit children in general education classroom and programs. Because our strategies work. And the methods that we use with children with disabilities work. And I guess I'm saying all that because I don't have an answer to the question I don't think. But it's something I feel like we have to look at. I feel like it has to be a priority moving forward. Because OSER expectation is that children with less restrictive environment, which means they're going to be in classrooms and teachers need tools on general education, and they need tools on how to serve children with disabilities.
And I think that --
I'm sorry I don't have the answers yet. Give me a little bit longer than 4 months. And I would love to collaborate with AUCD on this if there's interest. But this is a priority for me moving forward. And it's something that I really am trying to continue to look at moving forward.
THE MODERATOR: Yeah, definitely. Thank you. Linda, this might be kind of a joint question. But I'm not sure between Kimberly and Linda. Mary, you might have something to add. It's specific to emergency preparedness plan related to children in public school.
So do you have any specific examples of what FEMA is doing or areas of improvement that you feel like our centers could educate around?
So, really, emergency preparedness plans in schools are really something that is in general should be handled at the most local level. It's up to the individual school and their jurisdiction. But FEMA as an organization developed models and tools, again, to help with planning and preparedness. And, of course, you know, given sort of the reality of the world that we live in having plans for emergency, for weather and for active shooter and any other kind of situation is really vital.
I don't know I have a specific example of a plan. Just that it's one of those areas that FEMA does provide guidance and work with jurisdictions on.
And I'll adjust a little bit to that. The office of elementary and secondary education within the department, over the last 3 or 4 years has issued, not guidance per se, but kind of guiding principles on things that school districts and LEA and states can take into consideration as they develop these plans. These first response plans or evacuation plans. Our office of safe and healthy schools oversees that process.
But obviously, it's an area that I feel like schools work and need information and kind of guidance in working through. And it leaks a feedback I got from school. They have found those guiding principal documents to be helpful in kind of navigating that area.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. So this question, Mary, relates to stigma around mental health. And, so, the question relates to how can ACL and other centers work to decrease stigma? What do you see as barriers that really stigma is at the root of that?
Like I said, I have a sibling with a developmental disability who also has serious mental illness. And I think that this stigma is that we, you know, it's something very mysterious and ominous. And it's very similar to a lot of other issues that people have had who get out and talk about it.
So how do we dispel stigma is we talk about it openly and honestly. And I think that, certainly, people who have mental illness are some of the best people to talk about it. So people with disabilities or self advocates, and also people with mental illness is self advocates. And we get an incident that happened this weekday. We know some of the stigma around that are those people are evil and to be avoided. And being a provider, healthcare provider, I've also dealt with this frequently with my sister and bringing her to physicians and it was not quite sure. We're not equipped to deal with this. Her physical illness and mental illness are two different things. And it was often a stigma around that.
So we need to provide the education and talk about it. So I think that when you asked that question, how do we dispel stigmas, it's certainly by issue or thing we can intend to do. We can do stakeholder listening. And that's inviting those self advocates to be part of that.
And I think sharing that information and certainly in schools with providers of all types of services, I think it's so important that people with mental illness are seen as outside of that stigma. But it's also a void in the U.S. in terms of resources and coverage and availability. So that's part of that stigma staying in place, because there's not enough around there to support and demystify that stigma.
So from an ACL perspective, it's something if we talked about addressing employment with people are mental illness, you never know when something is going to happen. So those are all things we need to talk about and get the stories out there and share with people, how we support people. And work on that demystifying it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. That's so important. And that's so much of what we do.
So as we wrap-up this morning, we have such a diverse audience. And we have training people and seasoned experts. And all of you are leading during this time of change. If you can leave us with a pearl of wisdom in a time of change.
I'm not the young one just starting out. So mine will be more of from years of being around the block several times, I would say that and this is not new. And I didn't create this. But if you don't have the passion, change. Don't do this if you don't have the passion.
It's so important that everyday you're thinking about who you're serving and why are you there? And if you don't have passion around, oh, I know why I'm here and I know why I'm doing this, then you shouldn't be doing it. Because to be a leader, that's what you have to have is that passion. The other thing I've learned is trust. Trust others to know as much as you, if not more. Learn from that. So trust, engage, listen. That's so important. And I say the other thing for me is, you always have two choices. You have the choice of, you know, moving on and being angry sometimes. Or making your statement. Or you have the choice of just being, you know, a person who's listening, attentive, trying to gather information and not always forging ahead. So those two choices, sometimes it's I need to lead and make the decision and we've go to move on it. And other times it's sit back, listen, take in information. But the most significant thing is focus on who you're serving and have passion for doing it. So thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
I'm not trying to copy you at all. We should have coordinated this better. [Chuckles]
So I just kind of want to build on what Mary said. I served in so many different capacities. I started out as a teacher in a teacher prep program and quickly decided I should go to law school. [Laughter]
Hardest job in the world to be a teacher out there. But immediately after I graduated from law school, I went to the department, served at two SEA after that in a general counsel capacity. But out of all of that, right? When you're actually trying to work in an environment where you're trying to implement change, good sustainable change, you have all that formal stuff, right? You have your setting of the goals and how are we going to get there and being strategic and all that stuff.
But at the end of the day, I think what really makes it work is building relationships with people and listening. You know? It takes people 20 minutes with me. I'm an intense person. I'm loud. But people know that at the end of the day, I want what this best for kids. And that's it. If I feel like I'm sitting at a table and I know everybody around that table just wants what's best for kids. We can disagree, we can think we should go about it different ways, but if I built a relationship with them and they know my heart and what I'm trying to accomplish, all that stuff is water under the bridge. We can get there. We can find compromises and we can end up doing something meaningful for kids. But it requires those relationships, and it requires listening, right? Not just talking past each other. Actually listening to concerns and listening to what people are seeing in order to do it.
So I'm just going to layer on top of all of that, because I agree with everything that was just said. But I think two things to keep in mind. Number one, change is constant, rights? It's the one thing we can absolutely count on.
Number two, change can be painstakingly slow. Right? We've all seen and it experienced it and living it. Right? So for me, patience. Right? And I can tell you. I'm not a patient person. But you learn to develop patience over time, because though change is constant, it is very slow. And, so, I think that's one thing to keep in mind.
And then the next thing I think to keep in mind is just to, again, build upon what was said about passion, trust, and purpose, listening, and communicating is to think about when you approach your day and your work and your life, think about it from the aspect of how can I be of service today? And it may be to yourself. It may be to your co-worker. Or maybe to your constituents or family or friends. But how can I be of service today?
THE MODERATOR: That's a perfect call to action to end on today. I want to thank all three of you. It's been a really powerful meaningful conversation. Thank you!
Thank you for the opportunity to be here. Thank you.
So I just wanted to also acknowledge Dr. Kara Ayers is a rock star. Thank you, Kara, for doing this.
And we know with Secretary Acosta, and Mary Lazare, Kimberly Richey, Linda Mastandrea, and we've got a lot of attention from very busy people this morning, because you think we matter. So thank you for being here and thank you for your leadership.
So I often forget to do things and then I have to do them later. One of the things I was supposed to do in the opening plenary acknowledge our merging leader scholar around the country who is here to support AUCD. I see Shawna Dunn from Memphis near front. Shawna was a participant in the Atlanta AUCD academy. And Lauren Beller is here from Florida Tampa.
[Applause] And we have Nicole Coleman from Portland, Oregon as well. So I just wanted to acknowledge them.
We are going upstairs now to the meeting room level for the breakouts. And, again, thank you so much to our panel.