NAU’s Institute for Human Development awarded two grants to continue programs and fund new research

New developments and research projects are underway at Northern Arizona University’s Institute for Human Development (IHD) thanks to two grants totaling more than $3 million to support students with intellectual developmental disabilities (I/DD) and to study vocational rehabilitation practices in Indian Country.

The first is a five-year, $2.5 million grant awarded by The Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID), part of the U.S. Department of Education. The grant will allow IHD to develop and implement a radically inclusive support and coaching program for students with I/DD to attend postsecondary education institutions throughout northern Arizona.

Witnessing success and the interest level generated from a pilot project within IHD, project leaders decided to expand the reach of the pilot by recruiting partners from across northern Arizona—along with state and tribal leadership—to jointly support a proposal for federal funding to increase the number of students with I/DD who attend college after high school.

Students sitting at tableThis year, IHD personnel developed and implemented Supporting Inclusive Practices in Colleges (SIP-C), the collaborative pilot project that worked with school districts, community colleges, four-year universities and various agencies within Arizona’s Department of Economic Security to ensure positive outcomes for students. The project, funded by Arizona’s Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (ADDPC), supported four students with I/DD at Coconino Community College.

“Inclusion on college campuses means that all students are supported, those with disabilities and those without,” said Kelly Roberts, principal investigator and IHD executive director. “Everyone benefits from students with disabilities learning in the same classroom as the rest of the community.”

The funding will go toward expanding SIP-C’s reach by implementing a comprehensive, multi-component support network for students that includes professional development for postsecondary education staff as well as dedicated educational coaches and student peer mentors for students with I/DD.

“One of the tenets of our program is that we want students to ‘use the front door first’ whenever possible, which means that students will be coached to access existing resources first before requesting extra supports from the academic institution they attend,” said Sakénya McDonald, project coordinator with IHD. “At its core, the project uses person-centered planning, ensuring that each student is supported as they pursue their own self-determined goals. Students with I/DD should be in the center of their circle of support, always present and leading the way.”

Receiving the grant demonstrates the importance of successful pilot projects for securing increased funding. Including committed matched funds, more than $3.3 million will go toward supporting youth with I/DD attending colleges in northern Arizona over a period of five years.

“ADDPC’s pilot funding permitted IHD to leverage our success with a small group of students into a huge opportunity that will touch so many lives,” Roberts said.

The CARE Project and vocational rehabilitation practices on Indian Country

The National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research awarded a $600,000 grant to IHD to conduct a community-based participatory research (CBPR) project about American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services (AIVRS), programs that support integrated, high-quality employment for tribal members with disabilities living on or near recognized tribal service areas.

Zoom meeting for vocational rehabilitation
IHD staff meets with members of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma’s tribal vocational rehabilitation team

Although academics have extensively studied state-based vocational rehabilitation, there is little research on vocational rehabilitation in Indian Country. The Culturally Appropriate Research in American Indian Employment (CARE) project is designed to address this gap in academic research utilizing a CBPR model, which ensures that members of the communities being studied are involved in the project design and data collection.

“CBPR is ideal for the exploratory nature of this project because it means that historically-marginalized Native American stakeholders will have joint ownership and leadership in this work,” Roberts said. “This research demands respecting and honoring the immense wisdom and community strengths of sovereign tribal communities.”

The CARE project functions as an extension of the work already in place at IHD, which houses a training and technical assistance center for AIVRS programs. IHD researchers know first-hand that quality academic research on AIVRS practices will improve employment outcomes for Native Americans with disabilities.

“Through implementation, many AIVRS sites already know what works and what doesn’t,” said Winona Reid, vocational rehabilitation specialist with IHD. “We want to work together to demonstrate that this knowledge is rooted in evidence-based practices.”

About the Institute for Human Development

The Institute for Human Development is home to a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, efforts that support its mission of facilitating ongoing improvements in access, attitude and inclusion for people with disabilities. IHD, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, is one of the nation’s premier centers focused on promoting full inclusion by advancing attitudes that value persons with disabilities and enhancing access to all aspects of the human experience. IHD is a dynamic, multi-faceted environment staffed with faculty and professionals representing a range of human service disciplines and offering a broad spectrum of resources and programs for both NAU students and members of the community.