Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
As a joint project, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Vanderbilt Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities formed The Tennessee Disability Pathfinder. Its mission is to provide information about resources for people with disabilities, their families, service providers and advocates in the state of Tennessee.
Pathfinder concentrates on four major topics: Disability Information and Referral Resources, Education and Training Programs, a Multicultural Outreach Program and a project called Access Nashville.
Under referral services, they make a toll-free helpline available in English, Spanish, Kurdish and Persian. A services database is accessible online for free. There is also a free resource guide listing services in the state and a resource library that covers topics such as advocacy, education, health care, religion and spirituality.
Education and training are provided to increase community awareness with presentations scheduled on finding resources, disability etiquette, People First language and learning about multicultural populations. Representatives of over 100 disability agencies in the state schedule series to teach about their roles in providing resources. Those agencies also post a calendar online that lists support groups, workshops and fundraisers.
The Multicultural Outreach Programís purpose is to provide cultural awareness in the community and help remove barriers to cultural communities in accessing resources. Major emphasis is on the Hispanic and Kurdish outreach programs. Persian and two Kurdish dialects, Sorani and Bahdini, are languages accessible on the helpline and database.
Access Nashville is made up of volunteers who represent the business, aging, government, advocacy and disability fields. They serve to gather information about accessible places in Nashville including theaters, restaurants, transportation services, entertainment venues and hotels. Local restaurants that participate are given training and technical assistance through coalition partners.
That information is included at the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau for residents and visitors to the state. Also, The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center publishes a quarterly update about current research and their programs. The Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities distributes a publication about current initiatives in the council and state.
In addition, Access Nashville is used as training for students at Vanderbilt University and other local colleges by giving them volunteer experience in the community to increase their knowledge about helping improve accessibility for the disabled population.
On the lighter side, Pathfinder lists dates and locations about arts and recreation programs and local and national summer camps. The Disability Resources Library has free literature written by those with disabilities about their personal experiences. In addition, the library provides information about employment, housing, mental health services and emergency preparedness and includes services from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center on their site.
This project has been low cost and effective. Using community groups, volunteers and local colleges, they have been able to attain a comprehensible and highly useful program that helps support people with disabilities in Tennessee. For more information, contact the helpline at 1-800-640-4636.