Memphis Think Employment! Summit Offers Innovative Sessions on Employment, Transition

/ February 18, 2020

By Rachael Jenkins

A collaboration of statewide partners is launching free regional summits focused on improving employment outcomes for Tennesseans with disabilities, with a specific focus on transition-age youth. These summits bring together individuals with disabilities, family members, educators, providers, vocational rehabilitation professionals, and employers with the goal of sharing best practices and building community partnerships.

The summits are the work of the TennesseeWorks Partnership, Vanderbilt University, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, the University of Tennessee Center for Literacy, Education, and Employment, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities.

Think Employment! is a day full of innovative breakout sessions and speakers sharing the latest on the changing employment landscape for Tennesseans with disabilities. Several Think Employment! Summits have been held in Nashville, but we are now offering summits outside of Middle Tennessee. The goal was always to offer regional summits, knowing not everyone can make it to Nashville for conferences. Holding these events in all three grand regions of the state provide opportunities to feature local speakers and partner with local organizations.

The theme of this round of summits is “Transforming the Employment Landscape.” The first regional summit was held in Knoxville on Dec. 3. Serving as keynote speakers for the Knoxville event were Molly Ridgeway Anderson, Project SEARCH manager at The Access Program, and Susan Arwood and Nick Filarelli from Core Services of Northeast Tennessee. In 2017, Anderson co-authored and successfully lobbied for legislation that allowed American Sign Language to be an accepted foreign language in Tennessee high schools. In 2018, Core Services developed an Enabling Technology test project with the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to create a more effective service model that is person-centered and promotes independence.

The next summit will be held in Memphis on March 30 at the Student Alumni Center at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Boxed lunches will be provided. Registration is officially open at

The event, which is free, will feature a morning keynote by Dr. Erik Carter, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Special Education at Vanderbilt University. His research and teaching focuses on evidence-based strategies for supporting inclusion and valued roles in school, work, community, and congregational settings for children and adults with intellectual disability, autism, and multiple disabilities.

Team members from Transition Tennessee, an online “blueprint” for professional development and resources on preparing students with disabilities for life after high school, as well as educators from local school districts, will lead sessions for educators on transition-related topics. Attendees will also be able to join a workshop focused on improving delivery of pre-employment transition services and have the opportunity to network, collaborate, and brainstorm strategies. Lauren Pearcy, public policy director for the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, and Carrie Guiden, executive director of The Arc Tennessee, will present on supported decision-making, and a panel of self-advocates will discuss their employment experiences in the afternoon. Jenness Roth, associate director with the UTHSC Boling Center, will moderate a panel of family members of individuals with disabilities during lunch.

There will breakout sessions grouped into three tracks based on role:

  • Educators
  • Vocational Rehabilitation/Pre-Employment Transition Service professionals
  • Family members and self-advocates.

If you have questions about this event, please contact Rachael Jenkins at We welcome persons with disabilities. Contact Rachael for disability access information; two weeks’ advance notice is recommended for some accommodations (e.g., Braille, signing).

Rachael Jenkins smilingRachael Jenkins, M.A., is an educational consultant on the Transition Tennessee project at Vanderbilt University. Transition Tennessee is a collaboration between the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Tennessee Department of Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Vanderbilt University’s Department of Special Education, and TennesseeWorks. It is an online resource for professional development on preparing students with disabilities for life after high school. The program’s team of educational consultants offers online and in-person resources for educators and pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS) professionals as they support transition-age youth with disabilities through tasks such as finding meaningful and gainful employment and seeking accommodations to achieve full inclusion within their communities. Prior to her work at Vanderbilt University, Rachael was a vocational rehabilitation counselor in Washington, D.C.

February 18, 2020

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