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Parents of Students with Disabilities Discuss Inclusion

Infant Development Program Unites Four Dynamic Women

Sandra Lewis, Kimberli Holm, Gabe Ryan, Kristin Wright, and Robin Ryan

The discussion panel included (L–R) Sandra Lewis, Kimberli Holm, Gabe Ryan, Kristin Wright, and Robin Ryan.

Recognizing March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Department at the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) hosted a panel on March 27 to discuss the experiences of families raising children with disabilities. The panel included SCOE employees who are parents of individuals with disabilities, and the discussion helped SCOE staff learn more about inclusion, belonging, and the unique barriers the panelists experienced raising their children.

The discussion, which was facilitated by Veronica Ruiz, SCOE’s Coordinator of Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice, focused on three topics: belonging, barriers, and what can be done to make our community more welcoming and inclusive.

SCOE Program a Cornerstone of Support 

The panel discussion was more than 24 years in the making, with the SCOE Infant Development Program being a support network for all four of the dynamic mothers when their children were infants in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The program, which launched county-wide in 1976, supports families and their young children, addressing their individual needs by providing information, resources, and services to eligible children, from birth through 36 months of age.

The panel included four SCOE employees who are parents of children/young adults with disabilities, plus Gabriel Ryan, the son of one of the employees. The staff who participated included:

  • Kimberli Holm, Program Analyst, Planning and Improvement/DEI
  • Sandra Lewis, Intake Specialist (Interim/Retired), Infant Development Program, Special Education Department
  • Robin Ryan, Coordinator, Seeds of Partnership, Special Education Department
  • Kristin Wright, Executive Director of Equity, Prevention, and Intervention

During the panel discussion, the parents described their profound experiences with the Infant Development Program as foundational and an important cornerstone of support. Not only did the children receive services as infants, but the parents were encouraged to participate in advisory and leadership capacities. More than two decades after their initial experience with the program, each of the mothers continues to support parents of children with disabilities—as well as educators and service providers who serve parents and students—through various roles as SCOE employees and in the community.

Panelist Gabriel Ryan described finding his niche working as a blog writer, contributor, and product tester for School Health Corporation—a provider of health supplies and services to professionals in education settings. He talked about the importance of inclusion and belonging for people with disabilities, and how fulfilling it is for him to be authentically involved in meetings and discussions at work.

About Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

Every March, the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities (NACDD) and its partners collaborate to lead Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all sides of community life, as well as awareness of the barriers that people with disabilities still sometimes face in connecting to the communities in which they live.