AUBURN – When Gov. Robert Bentley signed a proclamation designating March as “Transition Awareness Month” in Alabama, it also highlighted the beginning of Auburn University’s third decade of providing service to youth and young adults with disabilities.
The Auburn Transition Leadership Institute, a research and outreach center of Auburn’s College of Education, will host the 21st annual Alabama Transition Conference March 7-8 at Auburn Marriott Opelika Hotel and Conference Center at Grand National. The conference, one of the longest-running events of its kind in the country, focuses on helping students with disabilities bridge the gap, or transition, from high school to post-secondary employment opportunities.
More than 600 transition stakeholders, including students, parents, educators and policymakers, will attend the conference.
Karen Rabren, director of the Auburn Transition Leadership Institute, said the conference, coupled with the governor’s proclamation, will further the conversation about what can be done to better serve young Alabamians with disabilities.
“There are over 49 million people with disabilities in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” Rabren said. “Unfortunately, this population faces unemployment and underemployment at much higher rate than persons without disabilities.
“The future for individuals with disabilities can be improved, however, particularly if we provide transition services to support youth as they learn how to assume their young adult roles and responsibilities. We have the legislation in place to support those activities. It’s about getting beyond the stigmas and stereotypes – in the workplace, the classroom and the community.”
Rabren said the conference and, by extension, Transition Awareness Month reinforces the idea that persons with disabilities have the same hopes, dreams and aspirations as those without disabilities. She said that transition services are directed at making students aware of their own strengths and abilities, teaching job skills in their areas of interest and as a result preparing them for continued education and the work force.
The Alabama Transition Conference will feature several nationally renowned experts, including keynote speaker Ginger Blalock. Blalock, an emeritus professor of special education at the University of New Mexico who serves as that state’s consultant for the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development project, has co-authored and co-edited several handbooks on transition practices.
Presenters include White House appointees Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs for the U.S. Department of Education; and Lynnae Ruttledge, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Other featured speakers are James Patton of the University of Texas and Paul Wehman from the Medical College of Virginia.
Workshop topics will include classroom strategies, ethical dilemmas, development of social skills, the role of job coaches, post-school options, Society Security Administration benefits, adaptive recreation and athletics and transition services for young people with autism spectrum disorder.
The governor’s proclamation extends the conversation about transition beyond the conference. During the Feb. 18 signing, Rabren and other members of the Auburn Transition Leadership Institute also met with Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, a long-time supporter of the university’s transition initiatives, and several students with disabilities.
(Contributed by Troy Johnson.)