“The harder you work, the more you earn.” This quote underscored the tone and direction for much of keynote speaker Anthony Ianni’s message to attendees at the fourth annual Think Employment! Summit, held on September 15th at the Embassy Suites Cool Springs in Franklin. Mr. Ianni was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. He is the first-known athlete with autism to play Division 1 college basketball. He won two Big Ten championships, a Big Ten Tournament Title, and was a member of the 2010 Final Four team. Mr. Ianni now works for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and travels the country sharing his story and message of hard work, high expectations, and motivation.
Mr. Ianni’s keynote speech was just one highlight of a packed day filled with dynamic sessions and speakers. For the last four years, TennesseeWorks has organized the Employment Summit each September, bringing together students with disabilities, self-advocates, family members, educators, policymakers, and providers to focus on raising employment expectations and opportunities for people with disabilities. The Summit offers a unique blend of sessions aimed at empowering self-advocates, along with speakers sharing the latest on the changing employment landscape for individuals with disabilities.
The presence of the school groups and self-advocates is always a key highlight of the Summit, but other conference sessions also provided important information on increasing employment opportunities and outcomes for all Tennesseans with disabilities. Conference attendees were able to choose from a variety of sessions, such as the ABLE Act, affordable housing, healthcare, WIOA, inclusive higher education, Supporting Families Lifecourse tools, Putting Faith to Work, and more. A session on the new Employment and Community First CHOICES waiver program was particularly popular this year. Karen Lee, Executive Director of SEEC (Seeking Equality, Empowerment, and Community for People with Developmental Disabilities) in Maryland, presented on the transformation of employment policy and implementation that has taken place in her state.
The Summit was sponsored by the TennesseeWorks partnership, with administrative leadership from Vanderbilt University and the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. TennesseeWorks is supported by a Project of National Significance: Partnerships in Employment Systems Change grant from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Generous contributions were provided by the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Blue Care of Tennessee.
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(1) Track One: Transforming the Employment Landscape
Heck Yes, I’m Working and Loving It!
Presenter: Alice L. Bowen, Program Director, Benefits to Work Program, Glenn McReynolds, Benefits Analyst (BA), Tim Benthal, Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) and Brandi Glasscock, Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC)
Putting Faith to Work: Congregations Connecting Job Seekers with Disabilities to Meaningful Employment
Presenter: Courtney Taylor, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center
Supporting Families: Using LifeCourse Tools to Plan for Employment
Presenter: Emma Shouse, Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and Ned Solomon, Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities
Moderator: Jeremy Norden-Paul, Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Achieving a Better Life Experience: ABLE TN Turns Dreams Into Reality for People with Disabilities
Presenter: Carrie Guiden, The Arc Tennessee, Roy West, Tennessee Department of Treasury, and Lorri Mabry, TennesseeWorks
When the Pediatrician Says “Goodbye”
Presenter: Jacqueline Johnson, Tennessee Department of Health
When the Pediatrician Says “Goodbye”: Part 2
Presenter: Janet Shouse, TennesseeWorks/Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and Kimmie Jones, Tennessee Disability Pathfinder