FLORENCE — Parents and caregivers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities will have a chance to connect and learn to better support their loved ones at an advocacy workshop Sept. 17.

The workshop is a collaboration between the University of North Alabama’s Office of Disability Support Services and Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion, as well as The Arc of the Shoals and Alabama Lifespan Respite.

It will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 330 of UNA’s Wendell W. Gunn University Commons building.

During the workshop, representatives from the two sponsoring groups will provide tools, information and skills attendees can use to advocate for their loved ones, who can then use those resources to self-advocate throughout their lives.

“We’re hoping to have a pretty big turnout,” said Amanda Rye-Couch, a qualified developmental disability professional and case manager with The Arc. “We’re planning on trying to do something like this every quarter — maybe with a different topic and different things that are important to this population.”

For the first workshop, Disability Support Services Director Jeremy Martin will offer resources to help attendees teach children 21 years and younger. Rye-Couch will then discuss how to teach those older than 21 how to continue advocating for themselves.

“In keeping in line with the university’s mission of engaging, it is extremely important to pass our knowledge and advocacy to our community partners,” Martin said in a university news release. “We hope our parent advocacy workshop will help inform parents of their rights and responsibilities for their children with disabilities, and help bridge the gap between high school and the very scary unknown after graduation.”

Hunt, Rye-Couch and a Family Studies graduate student interning with Disability Support Services recognized a need in the community for these resources, so they met to conceptualize what addressing that need might look like.

“Being able to partner with on-campus organizations, such as Disability Support Services, along with community organizations, such as The Arc of the Shoals and Alabama Lifespan Respite, helps us address one of those issues that are really facing families and students today,” said Andrea Hunt, director of the Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion.

“We thought this was a great time to think about how we use the information and knowledge we have here on campus to benefit those that are out in the community.”

Hunt said it is hoped the workshop will also help reach future disabled students prior to their arrival on campus.

At the end of the workshop, facilitators will take suggestions from attendees for what future workshops should focus on.

“Come out and give it a chance,” Rye-Couch said. “We’ve all got something else we can learn. We can learn together.”

Respite care will be available at the workshop. Attendees who need it should RSVP by Thursday to Rye-Couch at 256-383-1472, ext. 118, or by sending an email to acouch@arcoftheshoals.com.

—kendyl.hollingsworth@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5757. Follow on Twitter @TD_KendylH

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