Photo of Mineral Industries Building with UK blue overlay and UK HDI logo in white

Addressing Education and Postsecondary Inequities for Kentucky Students with Intellectual Disabilities

On May 20, 2021, the University of Kentucky submitted application to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid to establish a Comprehensive Transition & Postsecondary (CTP) Program for students with intellectual disabilities (ID). Upon approval, this program – which will be known as UK-SHEP (University of Kentucky Supported Higher Education Partnership) – will begin accepting applications for admission.

CTPs were created by the Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008) and are higher education programs for students with ID who want to continue academic, career and technical, and independent living instruction in order to prepare for competitive integrated employment.

The underrepresentation of students with ID in higher education is a longstanding and pervasive problem in Kentucky, one that presents both an economic challenge and opportunity for our state. As an Employment First state, Kentucky is committed to ensuring that competitive integrated employment is the first and preferred option for citizens with disabilities, and we expect the UK-SHEP will contribute positively toward building a truly inclusive workforce in Kentucky.

As the state’s flagship University and home to the Human Development Institute (HDI) –  our state’s University Center on Disability – UK is uniquely positioned to implement and sustain a CTP program. HDI is also the statewide technical assistance center supporting three current CTP programs (Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, and Bluegrass Community & Technical College), and a resource to other Kentucky institutions of higher education interested in establishing a program.

UK-SHEP will provide students with ID a fully inclusive college experience which will better prepare them for competitive integrated employment and independent living.

What will this mean for current students and instructors at UK?

The addition of a CTP program will not change any current courses or the way they are taught. Rather, the same courses that are currently offered will continue to be offered. The biggest change you may see is the inclusion of students with ID on campus – perhaps in one of your classes, or in other areas of student life. With chosen supports and person-centered planning, UK-SHEP students will engage in all areas of campus life, from classes to clubs to social events and activities.

Kathy Sheppard-Jones, Executive Director of HDI, said, “The UK-SHEP will advance our efforts to address the inequities that have disproportionately characterized the education and postsecondary life of Kentucky students with ID.”

If you would like to learn more about the proposed UK-SHEP program or about HDI’s role in supporting this work, please contact Erin Fitzgerald ( or Johnny Collett ( for more information.

Staff Photo of Darrell Mattingly

Executive Order extends Mattingly’s appointment to the KY Statewide Independent Living Council

On May 21, 2021, an Executive Order was issued by Governor Andy Beshear that extends Darrell Mattingly’s appointment to the KY Statewide Independent Living Council until 2024. Mattingly, a Computer Specialist at HDI also serves on the Hart-Supported Living Council.

The Statewide Independent Living Council, known simply as SILC, is a federally mandated, governor-appointed council. The majority of members are individuals with disabilities. The SILC is required to develop, monitor and review a state plan, in conjunction with the state Department for Aging and Independent Living (DAIL), that addresses the independent needs in our state; develop and support a statewide network of Independent Living Centers; submit periodic reports to DAIL, coordinate activities with the state Rehabilitation Council; and ensure all regularly scheduled meetings of the SILC are open to the public and provide reasonable accommodations when requested with a one-week notice.

Congratulations, Darrell!

Summer Leadership Camp Experience Group Picture

2021 Summer Leadership Experience Accepting Applications

The University of Kentucky Human Development Institute in partnership with the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation present the Summer Leadership Experience on July 7–10, 2021. All Kentucky high school upperclassmen (entering juniors and seniors) with disabilities are welcome to apply. Students can apply online at and pay the $50 application fee which includes a 3-night stay in a campus dorm, all meals & snacks, interactive sessions about education and career planning, financial assistance, and resources to develop skills needed to take steps after high school with confidence and success.  

The registration deadline is June 11, 2021. For more information, call 859-257-1714 or email Teresa Belluscio at

woman standing in front of trees is smiling has blonde hair and is wearing a red sweater

Graduate Certificate in Developmental Disabilities Student Spotlight: Emma Foret

Music therapy is gaining popularity as an effective approach for enhancing communication and social skills for people with developmental disabilities. This year’s cohort of Graduate Certificate in Developmental Disabilities students include four from UK’s Music Therapy Program.

Emma Foret comes from a family of musicians in rural West Tennessee.

She said, “My dad plays trumpet and is a big reason why I chose the same instrument. My mom majored in saxophone performance… And then my grandparents are bluegrass musicians who also play rock and country and were inducted into the music hall of fame in Selmer, Tennessee, and I played a lot with them… I have a violin background with bluegrass roots, and I played trumpet in middle school through college.”

Emma’s parents are also both teachers. Her mom is a Kindergarten through eighth grade music teacher, and her dad teaches high school band, both in the McNairy County school system in Selmer.

Of high school band, Emma says, “That was where I found my place.”

It was also where she saw the value of inclusivity in classrooms. She said, “I was a section leader… but because our program included a wide variety of students, I worked with a lot of diverse learners. I got a lot of experience there. Even though I knew very little, it was just a common practice that everyone participated, and I feel like that was an important experience that led me here.”

She added, “In the special areas, like art, music, PE, choir, all of those things – I think that’s where you can see inclusion at its best. Those activities are very community based already.”

After a degree in music education at the University of Tennessee at Martin (about an hour from Murray, KY), Emma wanted to learn more about inclusive music education.

“I loved working with kids, and then I realized there was such a gap in my knowledge on what I knew about how to work with diverse learners,” she said. “I had a few experiences in my student teaching where I knew I wanted to learn how to better serve every child in my classroom.’ So that’s what brought me here. And that’s what brought me to this certificate, especially.”

In the certificate program, students conduct a research project and participate in a practicum. Coursework covers the entire lifespan and prepares professionals to provide services and supports for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

For her research project, Emma will be looking at the gap in music classroom participation from kindergarten through high school. She said there is a major decrease as students get older. She also realized that there is a gap in knowledge for certain educators when it comes to students with disabilities.

She shared, “I thought it was so interesting because in an elementary school, you see everyone. Music is where everyone belongs and has their place. Unfortunately, the numbers decrease a little bit, the older they get.

Students in the certificate program also learn from a variety of guest speakers with disabilities.

“I get to hear a lot of very different, intelligent people,” Emma said. “And it’s always different when you hear about someone else’s experiences, because I haven’t experienced a disability… I think hearing from diverse guest speakers is one of the best things [about the program].”

The certificate program brings students from a range of disciplines, and each cohort is unique with its own array of different perspectives.

Emma noted that the program “is a really great opportunity for you to grow your mind past what you’ve experienced, and you work with such different people, regardless of if you’re in the therapy or education field… We have so many different discipline areas coming together to step in and advocate, and I think that’s awesome… Emma hopes to do her practicum at the Child Development Center of the Bluegrass on campus, where she and her husband (who also has a music education background) both work.

She said, “I was certified K-12 and I’ve always loved kindergarten through the awkward middle school phase… I’ve never taught students younger than kindergarten, but I love it.  They’re so fun and are so eager to learn.”

Students often note that what they learn in the certificate program transforms their understanding of disability and advocacy.

Emma shared her experience this way:

…I’ve definitely developed [as an advocate] since being here. I see the world as sunshine and rainbows most of the time… I want to help everyone and make the world a better place, and I guess I didn’t realize how much we still have left to go… I’ve definitely taken on more of that approach since learning and hearing from people with disabilities over the past year with different guest lecturers… I can even think back on projects I did… where I was interested in music therapy and I was specifically interested in intellectual/developmental disabilities and my terminology wasn’t correct—I came at it with such a good heart, and I think most people do—it’s just not knowing or being aware of the community. I strive to advocate for [people with disabilities], but also want to promote their voice because everyone deserves to be heard and understood.

She went on to say, “The world needs to be more accessible for everyone. If I were to acquire a disability, I would want to be able to experience life the same way that I do now… I’ve just become so much more aware, and it’s made me a better human, it’s made me a better teacher, and hope to be a better therapist.”

For more information about HDI’s Graduate Certificate in Developmental Disabilities, follow this link:

Austin wearing a green, linen shirt smiling in front of trees. She has long, brown wavy hair

Austin Nugent named 2021 AUCD Emerging Leader

Austin Nugent, Disability & Health Program Coordinator for the UK Human Development Institute (HDI) has been selected as a 2021 Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) Network Emerging Leader. The individuals are selected based on their contributions to the network, how they have demonstrated leadership, and their values and commitment to diversity, inclusion, and respect for others.  

Austin holds her bachelor’s in sociology and disability studies from the University of California, Los Angeles and is currently pursuing her Master of Public Administration and a graduate certificate in developmental disabilities at the University of Kentucky. Over the last eleven years, she has held many roles in the community centered around supporting and advocating for the meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities. However, her favorite role is being the older sister to a biological brother with Down syndrome and two adopted brothers with various support needs resulting from adverse childhood experiences.  

Given my lived and family experience with disability, my professional and personal goals are identical. Knowing firsthand the value of information and opportunities, my mission is to support others to access resources and services that empower them to lead healthy, self-determined lives”. Following graduate school, Austin is considering pursuing a law degree to gather additional knowledge needed to advocate and protect the rights of people with disabilities.