Institute celebrates fifteen years of community service for disabled

Sam Kean

Throughout his life and as University vice president and provost, Bob Bruininks has had personal and professional exposure to people with disabilities.
Fifteen years ago, his experiences culminated in the founding of the Institute of Community Integration, which promotes a better quality of life for people with disabilities.
Today the institute celebrates its anniversary, and while he said society still has not given people with disabilities full access to employment or education, Bruininks also said that the institute has brought about changes that exceeded even his expectations.
The celebration will include speakers with disabilities, family members and others attesting to the institute’s importance. In the afternoon, attendees will split into discussion groups focused on future progress.
The ICI improves life for people with disabilities through research, training and technical assistance and promoting community awareness.
Since its creation in 1985, the institute’s budget has increased twentyfold to $10 million. But, even more important than the monetary increase, the institute has grown into an internationally recognized leader in social science research, Bruininks said.
While the institute does not run direct service programs itself, many of those programs often seek out the institute for support and advice.
Institute director David Johnson said the ICI is an umbrella over several centers, each focusing on a different period of life: early childhood, school age, transition to work and adult services.
However, each project pursues the same goal: community integration.
When asked why the institute pushes for integration so hard, Johnson responded, “What would you want for your loved ones?”
He added that people with disabilities have far more capacity than most people assume and integration could help eliminate stigmas and stereotypes.
Charlie Lakin, director of the Research and Training Center on Community Living, said this type of work has long existed at the University.
An increase in federal funding in 1985 set the stage for the establishment of disabilities institutes in every state. Lakin said the increase in funds reflects society’s growing awareness of the problems that such individuals face.
As for the next 15 years, Johnson said he expects technology to play an increasing role in improvement of education, employment opportunities and living situations for people with disabilities.
Today’s anniversary celebration runs from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Radisson Metrodome. It is not open to the public.

Sam Kean welcomes comments at [email protected]