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Council for Exceptional Children, DADD meets in Kaanapali

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | Feb 7, 2019

From left, Janice Fialka, Micah Fialka-Feldman and Rich Feldman all share Micah’s journey at the DADD Conference at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. PHOTO BY CINDY SCHUMACHER.

KAANAPALI – On Jan. 16-18, the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali Beach welcomed the 20th International Conference of the Council for Exceptional Children, DADD (Division on Autism, Intellectual Disability & Developmental Disabilities). The event presentations integrated research and practice, reflecting the ongoing need for evidence-based and practice-informed strategies to enhance the educational outcomes for individuals with autism, intellectual disability and/or developmental disabilities.

“Our conference program had over 300 interactive lecture and poster presentations,” said DADD Conference Coordinator Cindy Perras. “Other features included networking luncheons, an exhibit hall and other opportunities to engage with colleagues and leaders in the field. Our opening keynote address was delivered by self-advocate Micah Fialka-Feldman. Micah told the inspirational story of his journey through years of discrimination to his present-day accomplishments.”

“I have an intellectual disability,” said Fialka-Feldman. “Mine was a ground-breaking journey to full inclusion in K-12 schools, college, work and life. I wrote a book with my parents, Janice Fialka and Rich Feldman; my sister, Emma; friends; and colleagues called ‘What Matters: Reflections on Disability, Community, and Love.’ The book offers hope and practical guidance for families, self-advocates, professionals and all the rest of us, because we all need to be included.”

Janice Fialka, whose conference talk, “The Ever-changing Dance of Parenthood: Leading, Loosening, and Letting Go,” explained further: “The book narrates how Micah challenged discrimination in the federal court, and won, became a university teaching assistant and survived heart surgery. It offers strategies to ensure authentic lifelong inclusion, create circles of support, help patients shift from being protectors to guides. Micah and his community are mentors on how to redefine disability, cultivate relationships and live a meaningful life.”

Greg Smith, professor of Inclusive and Place-Based Education, said in his review of “What Matters” in the Spring 2018 issue of Rethinking Schools, “Janice Fialka recounts her three-decade-plus experience raising a son with intellectual disabilities. The book serves as a memorable and moving introduction to the emerging disability movement which asserts that all forms of disability are not deficits but instead expressions of the variety of ways that humans can exist in the world.”

Smith continued, “Such an assertion challenges unexamined beliefs about normality and requires a shift in the way we think about inclusion. Micah’s story demonstrates the importance of setting high expectations, allowing people with intellectual disabilities to pursue their own dreams, and taking risks within a community of support that values interdependence. This combination of factors has allowed a person initially slated for institutionalization to become a teacher in courses about special education at Syracuse University and a social justice activist in his own right. More educators need to embrace the vision of disability pride presented here.”

The three-day DADD Conference offered professional development and resources for all aspects of the field to enhance the natural communication abilities of students with significant disabilities.

For more information about DADD, e-mail cindy.perras@gmail.com or visit Micah’s website at www.throughthesamedoor.com, Janice’s website at www.danceofpartnership.com, or daddcec.org.