Indiana State’s Blumberg Center continues important role in disability awareness organization

March 21, 2014

What began as a month-long partnership to coordinate events for Indiana Disability Awareness Month in March continues four years later through the Disabilities Awareness Work Group.

The organization's nearly 50 service agencies and private individuals continue to be effective in providing for the needs of people with disabilities in the Wabash Valley, said Carol Wetherell, director of Indiana State University's Blumberg Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Special Education. The center is housed at the Bayh College of Education and focuses on research, program development and outreach activities to benefit people with exceptionalities.

"Service agencies meet monthly to plan core activities and to share what is happening within their organization," she said. "Having knowledge of what others are doing allows us to be billboards for each other. If we hear of a particular need we can provide referral information."

Recognized with the Community Spirit Award by the Indiana Governor's Council for People a few months after the group's inception in 2010, the group's members include such organizations as Hamilton Center and the Vigo County Public Library, but the organization does not focus on any one particular disability. Members come to the table for the common purpose of assisting people with disabilities, as well as their families and employers.

Pete Ciancone, a working group member and executive director of the Wabash Independent Living and Learning (WILL) Center in Terre Haute, said the Blumberg Center is an invaluable partner in organizing events and keeping issues of the disabled community in the public eye.

"The organization's title gives the mission. DAWG is designed to keep disability issues in front of the public," he said. "We do anything we can to help people remember our disability community, which includes about one in five of us. It's a means of positive recognition of what disabilities are and what people can do."

The group conducts health fairs and other events to remind people of disability issues which impact 20 percent of the population when family and friends of the disabled are included, Ciancone noted.

The Disabilities Awareness Working Group has 15-20 members who attend meetings and events regularly and about 50 people involved in select events, which Ciancone sees as one of the group's strength."We don't compare timecards to see which of us is more devoted," he said. "Groups and individuals in DAWG get involved in areas where they feel they can make the most impact. We know that it won't help anyone to bicker and make life difficult for each other, so we work as a collaborative group of people dedicate to what they do, and I think we have a lot of successes."

Some of the group's greatest strides have been made through community engagement in conjunction with the Business Leadership Network-Wabash Valley to build understanding with employers about the benefits of including people with disabilities in the workplace, he said.

"We try to help people overcome any reluctance they may have to working with people with disabilities," Ciancone said. "Over time, those efforts have helped us gain support from businesses and agencies who do not work with people with disabilities on a day-to-day basis, but who support what we do. I think it shows that we are making an impact."The support the Blumberg Center has thrown behind the working group is necessary to the organization's mission, said Karen Rusk, chairwoman of the Business Leadership Network-Wabash Valley.

"BLN, along with the Blumberg Center, are front and center in those efforts, leading a volunteer committee of large and small business leaders and agencies who provide employment and other services for persons with disabilities," she said. "The committee members work hard to encourage local employers to hire persons with disabilities and provide support when they do."

Rusk said education and recognition are vital parts of the Leadership Network's success in the Wabash Valley and the Blumberg Center is a valuable partner in training, education and public awareness.

The outreach to people with disabilities was spotlighted at a Feb. 28 recognition award presentation, which was the working group's new kickoff event for Indiana Disability Awareness Month this year.

"This was the first year we did recognition awards for people and businesses that go beyond for people with disability," Ciancone said. "Along with the awards, DAWG continues to show that people with disabilities are abled by bringing them out into the community for service events and hosting employment fairs to talk to employers and human resource managers about the advantages of hiring people with disabilities."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or Betsy.Simon@indstate.edu

Contact: Pete Ciancone, executive director of the Wabash Independent Living and Learning Center, petecinc@thewillcenter.org