Legislative Breakfast in the Legislative Office Building

UCEDD table top

The UConn University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities joined sister agencies of the CT Developmental Disabilities Network at a legislative breakfast in the Legislative Office Building on 2/21/18. The event was hosted by the CT Council on Developmental Disabilities. Disability Rights CT, our state’s privatized Office of Protection and Advocacy, also displayed materials. Many legislators and members of the public had an opportunity to learn about DD network.

Early Intervention Credential Program Grads!

Congratulations to the scholars in the Early Intervention Credential Program for successfully completing the year-long program!

EISP Cohort 2
Congratulations to the scholars in the Early Intervention Credential Program for successfully completing the year-long program!
Standing row from left: Nicole Cocce, Heather Nacca, Cathy Piterski, Dorit Dahan, Rebecca Smith, Allison Witkovic, Ibeth Bansleben and Cheryl Anne Maccione
Sitting from left Megan Drury, Corina Gutierrez, Josefina Castillo, and Katie Imes

For More Information Contact:

Paralyzed student experiences Burning Man through VR

Musical theatre student Evan W. Gadda has heard stories about Burning Man but hasn't made the journey himself. He is asthmatic. and because of cerebral palsy, paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, so making the trip to Black Rock City has been deemed impossible, until now. Through a HTC Vive VR headset, he has been able to attend the desert event virtually.

His response? "Oh my God."

The team at University of Nevada, Reno who created the experience for Gadda, also sent him to Squaw Valley to (virtually) ski, something he hasn't done since he was 15 years old. It brought him to tears.

Here are the two videos he watched:

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DeVos rescinds guidance documents on rights for disabled students

By Moriah Balingit, October 21

President Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
President Trump looks at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as he speaks during a Feb. 14 meeting with parents and teachers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The Education Department has rescinded 72 policy documents that outline the rights of students with disabilities as part of the Trump administration’s effort to eliminate regulations it deems superfluous.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services wrote in a newsletter Friday that it had “a total of 72 guidance documents that have been rescinded due to being outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective — 63 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and 9 from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).” The documents, which fleshed out students’ rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, were rescinded Oct. 2.

A spokeswoman for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos did not respond to requests for comment.

Advocates for students with disabilities were still reviewing the changes to determine their impact. Lindsay E. Jones, the chief policy and advocacy officer for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said she was particularly concerned to see guidance documents outlining how schools could use federal money for special education removed.

“All of these are meant to be very useful … in helping schools and parents understand and fill in with concrete examples the way the law is meant to work when it’s being implemented in various situations,” said Jones.

President Trump in February signed an executive order “to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens,” spurring Education Department officials to begin a top-to-bottom review of its regulations. The department sought comments on possible changes to the special education guidance and held a hearing, during which many disability rights groups and other education advocates pressed officials to keep all of the guidance documents in place, Jones said.

This is not the first time DeVos has rolled back Education Department guidance, moves that have raised the ire of civil rights groups. The secretary in February signed off on Trump’s rescinding of guidance that directed schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity, saying that those matters should be left up to state and local school officials. In September, she scrapped rules that outlined how schools should investigate allegations of sexual assault, arguing that the Obama-era guidance did not sufficiently take into account the rights of the accused.

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New Cooperative Agreement to Improve Early Childhood Workforce Development

UConn UCEDD Awarded $10M Cooperative Agreement to Improve Early Childhood Workforce Development through Early Childhood Personnel Center

ECPC Funding Announcement

The Early Childhood Personnel Center (ECPC), funded by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, Department of Education, will continue and build on the work of the current Early Childhood Personnel Center to increase the capacity of State IDEA Part C and B/619 administrators, along with administrators in other early childhood service sectors and early childhood faculty teaching at institutions of higher education to improve outcomes for young children with disabilities and their families across the country.

The purpose of this Center is threefold:

  1. To increase the capacity of state systems to implement, scale up, and sustain a coordinated comprehensive system of personnel development (CSPD) to ensure local personnel have the competencies to deliver high-quality services and inclusive programs to improve outcomes for young children with disabilities and their families;
  2. To increase the knowledge, skills, and competencies of State (and Territory) IDEA Part C and B/619 administrators to lead systemic improvement efforts, actively engage in broader early childhood initiatives, and build more effective and sustainable systems that can support a competent early childhood workforce to improve outcomes for young children with disabilities and their families; and
  3. To increase the knowledge, skills, and competences of early childhood faculty teaching at institutions of higher education, along with other professional development staff, to align programs of study to state and national professional organization personnel standards, utilize adult learning principles, and integrate Division of Early Childhood recommended practices into programs of study.

“We are so pleased to announce another 5 years of funding to continue the work of the Early Childhood Personnel Center. We look forward to expanding our work with our Partner Organizations and TA centers, State Early Childhood Systems, Institutions of Higher Education and other stakeholders!”
- Dr. Mary Beth Bruder, Principal Investigator on the project.

Dr. Bruder, current Director of the Early Childhood Personnel Center, has put together a national team to carry out the work of this project. In partnership with the UConn UCEDD, dozens of nationally and internationally recognized organizations, institutions of higher education and highly experienced national leaders will continue to build upon the efforts of the Early Childhood Personnel Center.

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The Police Need to Understand Autism


Rob Zink with 12 year old austic boy
Rob Zink, an officer with the St. Paul Police Department in Minnesota, talked with a 12-year-old boy who has autism. Officer Zink founded a program to train his fellow officers how to interact with autistic people.

Diane Craglow was caring for a 14-year-old autistic boy named Connor Leibel in Buckeye, Ariz., one day in July. They took a walk to one of his favorite places, a park in an upscale community called Verrado. She was not hesitant to leave Connor alone for a few minutes while she booked a piano lesson for his sister nearby, because he usually feels safe and comfortable in places that are familiar to him, and he learns to be more independent that way.

When Ms. Craglow returned, she couldn’t believe what she saw: a police officer looming over the now-handcuffed boy, pinning him to the ground against a tree. Connor was screaming, and the police officer, David Grossman, seemed extremely agitated.

As Ms. Craglow tried to piece together what had happened, more officers arrived, spilling out of eight patrol cars in response to Officer Grossman’s frantic call for backup. Soon it became clear to Ms. Craglow that the policeman was unaware that Connor has autism, and had interpreted the boy’s rigid, unfamiliar movements — which included raising a piece of yarn to his nose to sniff it repeatedly — as a sign of drug intoxication.

As a graduate of Arizona’s Drug Evaluation and Classification program, Officer Grossman is certified as a “drug recognition expert.” But no one had trained him to recognize one of the classic signs of autism: the repetitive movements that autistic people rely on to manage their anxiety in stressful situations, known as self-stimulation or “stimming.” That’s what Connor was doing with the string when Officer Grossman noticed him while he was on patrol.

Images from Officer Grossman’s body camera show how the encounter turned into a situation that rapidly escalated beyond Connor’s ability to make sense of what was happening to him.

When an unfamiliar policeman rushed up to Connor and asked, “What are you doing?” he was honest, as autistic people usually are. “I’m stimming,” the boy said brightly. But Officer Grossman was unfamiliar with the word. On the body-cam audio, you can hear the officer’s uncomprehending response: “What?” You can also hear Connor try to calm himself down by saying “I’m O.K., I’m O.K.,” as he sustains abrasions on his back, arm and cheek by being held on the ground by the officer.

This is basically a worst-case scenario for anyone who cares for someone with a developmental disability, as well as for disabled people themselves, who live every day in fear that their behavior will be misconstrued as suspicious, intoxicated or hostile by law enforcement. And the encounter could have ended up a lot more tragic. Imagine if instead of being fair-haired and rail-thin, Connor had been powerfully built and black or Hispanic. A tense police officer, approaching a young man he thought was a threat to himself or others, might have been tempted to reach for his Taser or service weapon instead of his handcuffs.

That’s precisely what happened last year in North Miami, Fla., when a young autistic man named Arnaldo Rios briefly wandered from a group home to play with his toy truck on the street, and a passer-by called the police to report an “armed and suicidal” man sitting in the road.

When Officer Jonathan Aledda arrived, he had no idea that Mr. Rios had autism; no idea that the black man trying to calm him down, Charles Kinsey, was his behavioral therapist; and no idea that the flashing silver object in Mr. Rios’s hands was a toy, not a weapon. Officer Aledda fired at Mr. Rios. The bullet missed him, but struck Mr. Kinsey in the leg. The therapist survived, but the trauma of the incident resulted in Mr. Rios’s being placed into more restrictive institutions. He was unable to eat, suffered from night terrors and said to himself over and over, “I hate the police.” In April, state prosecutors charged Officer Aledda with attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence.

Studies show that these kinds of interactions between disabled people and law enforcement are terrifyingly common, and often go unreported. A white paper published last year by the Ruderman Family Foundation reported, “Disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers.”

Connor Leibel’s mother filed a complaint about her son’s treatment that resulted in an internal investigation by the Buckeye Police Department. It not only cleared Officer Grossman but also came to the unsatisfying conclusion that because the autism label covers a large spectrum of symptoms and behaviors it “would be very difficult to teach officers to recognize them all.”

That’s certainly true: Another way to frame the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s estimate that one in 68 American schoolchildren is on the spectrum is that autistic people make up a large and extremely diverse minority population. But police officers do not have to become experts in every aspect of autism to learn how to recognize people on the spectrum and treat them with respect.

Last year I attended a presentation by Rob Zink, an officer from the St. Paul Police Department in Minnesota, who started the Cop Autism Response Education Project to train his fellow officers how to interact with autistic people, inspired by his experience of having two sons on the spectrum. Officer Zink pointed out that sirens and flashing lights alone can be catastrophic sensory overload for people with autism, while a calm voice and a reassuring demeanor can go a long way toward de-escalating a tense confrontation.

He also stressed that law enforcement personnel should not expect autistic people to behave in the ways that non-autistic people do. For example, officers should not regard a refusal to look them in the eyes as a sign of guilt, as Officer Grossman did with Connor Leibel. In fact, many autistic people find it easier to interpret spoken instructions if they’re not compelled to simultaneously look the speaker in the eyes.

Similar programs are underway in several police departments across the country and around the world, but they are still too few and far between. The scarcity of these programs is a sad legacy of the decades when autism was mistakenly believed to be a rare condition, and many autistic people lived out their lives in state-run institutions.

Now that we know that autism is common, and comes in all the hues and shades of a broad human spectrum, we need to give law enforcement officers the knowledge that they need to avoid turning a routine call into a life-altering calamity.

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Our Daughters At Mercy Of Stalled Connecticut Budget


CT cuts funds for disability program

We are two moms who met recently and although we are different in many ways — one a Republican and one a Democrat — we share a deep bond.

Our daughters, Sarah and Zoe, have never met but have a lot in common. They are 21-year-old women who have severe intellectual disabilities and autism. They just graduated from their school programs. But their graduation has not brought celebration.

The lack of a state budget is not an abstraction for our families. It means no funding for the daily program our girls urgently need. The Department of Developmental Services offers programs with structure, activities and goals to work toward. Our daughters are among the 330 new graduates who are waiting for the funding of these core services. They have waited more than two months so far.

As moms, we share in the despair of watching our girls regress. We watch them become disoriented because the structure they enjoyed at their schools has disappeared from their lives. We watch their boredom turn to anger, anger they can't express through words, because neither of them can speak.

Zoe's having temper tantrums, her sleep is disturbed, she's destroyed furniture and, worse, is hurting herself. Last week, she broke a window. Sarah is becoming less social. She is isolating, avoiding her siblings, only choosing to spend time with her parents. It seems she pulled all this loss and confusion inward and has shut out all the successes from years of school and community inclusion. We try to give them structure and keep them safe. Mostly, we fear for their future.

We also share another fear. The only program currently offering some help to our families is at risk of not being funded. Community First Choice is a cost-effective federal and state program that provides in-home caregivers for people with severe disabilities. These caregivers can assist at home and enable parents to work, while bringing our girls out into the community. With no funding for new grads and a growing residential waiting list, Community First Choice has become the only source of funding to help people with intellectual disabilities.

We both serve on the state Council on Developmental Services and have a pretty good sense of the immense challenges facing DDS. The private nonprofit agencies that serve the vast majority of DDS family members are starving for funds. We are aware of the many complex and controversial issues involving DDS, including the problem of excessive overtime costs. It is important to remember that those overtime costs reflect employees working an exhausting number of hours caring for vulnerable adults who cannot be left alone. We agree that this issue needs to be addressed, however our immediate concern is the 330 new graduates who need funding now. It would be unprecedented if 21-year-olds are excluded from receiving these DDS day services.

We have been to the state Capitol and testified at hearings about the needs of DDS families. We've met with legislators many times in the last year. We've introduced our daughters to them.

Hundreds of DDS families have been at the Legislative Office Building, telling their stories. The legislators we've met are kind and compassionate. They take the time to listen and seem to care. Yet, we've gone 75 days without a budget and no funding for our kids.

We know the challenges facing our girls, Zoe and Sarah, and we see their responses to being without the programs they need — Zoe, whose anger erupts outwardly, and Sarah, who shows her loss and confusion by withdrawing inwardly. Despite their contrasting reactions, they are clearly "speaking" the same message. They are like their two moms, one a Democrat and one a Republican, who joined together to speak the same message: Pass a budget that funds the crucial DDS day funding our children need to get their lives back.

Adrienne Benjamin lives in New Britain. Arlene Reith lives in Salem. Both are members of the state Council on Developmental Services, of which Benjamin is chair.

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No More Free Parking In Hartford For Accessible Permit Holders

by Cyrus Dos Santos | Sep 1, 2017 11:30am

Hartford handicapped Lafayette st
Accessible parking on Lafayette Street in Hartford

HARTFORD, CT — The capital city will no longer offer free metered parking for commuters with disabilities starting today.

But the head of the Hartford Parking Authority said it’s not about increasing revenues for a city flirting with bankruptcy.

“It’s too difficult to determine if a valid permit is used validly,” Hartford Parking Authority CEO Eric Boone said Wednesday. He also stated that current laws make enforcing violations extremely difficult.

According to a Hartford Parking Authority website, one in six vehicles at a meter displays an accessible parking permit. The website goes on to say this indicates that “there is a significant amount of permit abuse.”

Asked if this change is related to the current financial climate within the capital city, Boone stated that it is to improve accessibility.

“Is there a small bi-product here, yeah, probably,” Boone said, “but that’s definitely not our catalyst here.”

He said they are interested in making sure valid permit holders have accessibility. Making sure everyone pays may deter those looking to avoid paying a parking meter and give those who truly need it more accessibility.

For valid permit holders “their need is accessibility,” he stated.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, there are 6,022 accessible parking permits in Hartford. That number is less than five percent of the 238,903 total state permits distributed by the agency, and far less than the 16.7 percent statistic HPA is using as it’s basis to remove this parking benefit.

Dating back to former Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s administration, HPA set out to survey the area to address suspected abuse, Boone said.

HPA estimated that at any given time approximately 7 percent of metered cars in the downtown area should display an accessible parking permit, legally. This number was arrived at after searching publicly available statistics addressing the number of disabled citizens who are at least the legal driving age, as well as DMV qualifications for permits. They also used the total number of assigned permits within the state based on DMV records and the Census.

“More than half of the handicapped parkers are fraudulent,” Boone asserted.

Without proper documentation of individual violations “there’s no way to know whether the person assigned the permit lives in that municipality or another,” William Seymour, DMV chief of staff, said. “Their permit is issued to a person, not a vehicle.”

But, with speculation of an excessive use of accessible parking permits, Seymour insists that DMV permits are issued in accordance with the law.

“We ensure that the proper medical certification is given for the permit,” Seymour said. “After that point, it’s a police issue.”

After consulting other municipalities, including Philadelphia, Chicago, and Atlanta to name a few, as well as the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, HPA believes this is the best choice for the city to move forward, Boone said.

“We don’t want to add an undue burden on the disabled community,” Boone said.

The alternative, according to HPA, would be to follow a model adopted by Michigan, which creates a two tiered parking system for disabled commuters.

This approach would call for tighter restrictions on those issued an accessible parking permit, resulting in a longer, more discriminatory process.

“We chose the least intrusive path,” Boone said.

Leading up to the change, HPA launched a bilingual flyer campaign that started in July and will continue past the start date. The organization has issued 10,000 flyers to be placed on all metered windshields displaying an accessible parking permit.

There will be warnings issued for the first week. After that, citations will be issued.

In Hartford, failing to pay a meter is a $45 fine, and going over the metered time limit is a $25 fine.

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Charlottesville: A Message to the UConn Community

August 17, 2017 – President Susan Herbst

candlelight vigil
Thousands gather with candles to march along the path that White Supremacists took the prior Friday with torches on the University of Virginia Campus in Charlottesville on August 16. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

To the UConn Community,

Last weekend, the world watched in horrified shock as scenes of brutality fueled by racist, hate-fueled ideologies played out in the town of Charlottesville, Va., home of one of our country’s greatest public universities. By the end of the day Saturday, three people were dead: two Virginia state troopers who had been monitoring the march from a helicopter, and a peaceful protester who had come to courageously bear witness against the noxious philosophy of white supremacy.

As our nation struggled to process these horrific events, we learned that groups motivated by the despicable ideologies of fascism and racism are planning more such rallies, particularly targeting public universities as symbols of all that they most despise: diversity, inclusion, and a relentless pursuit of the truth.

Let me be very clear: as a university, we are committed to fearless intellectual debate and to the free speech that makes it possible. Those commitments are essential to another elemental aspect of our identity, which is our determination to create an intellectual community composed of dignity, compassion, and respect, which constitute the foundation of a free society.

As I watched Americans in 2017 march in a torchlight procession in imitation of similar displays in Nazi Germany, and saw them raise their right arms in salute to the Third Reich, I thought of the more than 2,000 UConn students and alumni who went to war against that regime, and especially the 114 who lost their lives fighting it. Their memories are sacred here, now and forever.

The University of Connecticut will never yield to the poisonous ideas and attitudes we saw last weekend, and which are attempting to gain strength throughout our country. It is my commitment – it is my promise – that this will always remain a university that stands firmly for the virtues of democracy, equality, civil discourse, and human rights.

Our values as a university – and, even more importantly, as a nation – are being tested right now. The ways that each one of us responds will reveal before the world our true character and the depth of our commitment to a democratic society.


Susan Herbst
University President

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