Graduate Certificate Student Spotlight: Chelsea Gibbs

Chelsea Gibbs began working in the disability field by chance and fell in love with it, which led to her pursuing a Master’s in Music Therapy and enrolling in the Human Development Institute’s Graduate Certificate in Developmental Disabilities where she’s researching the intersectionality of disability and the LGBTQ+ community.

Chelsea has a background in music education and moved from Vermont to Kentucky two summers ago. She was in the process of looking for a teaching job when she took a part time job as a Community Living Supports provider, which led her to her job at Build Inclusion, an organization created by advocates that aims to improve community access and inclusion for people with disabilities.

“We offer what’s called supported employment services,” she explained. “We help people find competitive, integrated, and meaningful employment who might otherwise be facing vocational barriers.” She’s also working toward her certification to be a customized supported employment specialist through Marc Gold & Associates.

“I took the job thinking it would be very temporary,” she said, “just a couple hours a week until I got a music teaching job, and I’m glad I didn’t get a music teacher job because that opened me up to the disability world.”

Although she loves her job, Chelsea still wanted music in her life, so she enrolled in UK’s Music Therapy Program where she is focusing on piano and guitar. Chelsea defines Music Therapy as an evidence-based practice delivered by a certified music therapist where music interventions are used to work on an individual’s goals.

For example, in schools, a music therapist helps students work on their Individualized Education Program goals. In a hospital setting, music therapists can help with relaxation, pain management, or fine and gross motor skills. Chelsea hopes to bring her skills to her job to help clients with vocational goals.

Alongside her Music Therapy studies, Chelsea is working toward a Graduate Certificate in Developmental Disabilities. As part of that program, students complete an individual research project. Chelsea is doing hers with her partner, who is a PhD. Student in the College of Social Work at UK, and they will be studying the intersectionality of disability and the LGBTQ+ community.

Specifically, they will be comparing ABA, or Applied Behavioral Analysis, with conversion therapy (the controversial practice that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or identity) and the lack of mental health options for people who have had those interventions. Chelsea said, “Autistic self-advocates have spoken up about the harmful effects of ABA therapy, which often aims to change behaviors seen as undesirable by society. Neurodiversity is a natural and normal variation of the human genome. There is still controversy about both ABA and conversion therapy.”

Chelsea explained there is a high rate of autistic people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community and that it’s a very specific category of people that are underserved. She went on to explain the significance of the research project:

A lot of people… don’t have that training or aren’t able to offer effective therapies for people with disabilities. And when you add on top of that also being part of the queer community, there really is just a lack of knowledge on that subject and a lack of mental health resources. [And] if you don’t have those mental health resources, how does that impact the rest of your life?

Chelsea hopes the project will eventually lead to better access to services for individuals who are a part of these populations. “I’m an advocate for the disability community,” she said, “And you can’t be quiet being an advocate. You have to speak up.”

While she is most excited about her research project, Chelsea also said, “I am very glad I signed up [for the Certificate Program]… We’ve had just an array of wonderful guest speakers to come to talk to us about literally everything in the disability community… [and] I love the diversity of the students, which I think is great because no matter who you are, you’re probably going to come across somebody with a disability.”

Between what she’s learning in music therapy courses, the certificate program at HDI, and her job, Chelsea said it’s amazing to see how everything comes together, and she feels that her entrance into the disability field was “meant to be.”

“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I was planning on getting a teaching job, but life decided something else. I’m glad it did.”

For more information about HDI’s Graduate Certificate in Developmental Disabilities, contact Dr. Phillip Rumrill at

Article by Amanda Corbin, MFA

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Dahl to Co-Chair AUCD Special Interest Group

Kristen Dahl, LPCC, CHES, has been selected to co-Chair the Mental Health Aspects of I/DD Special Interest Group of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD). This group provides information on critical issues related to mental health for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD). Their vision is to promote inclusion and belonging for all people with IDD and MH needs. Learn more about this group and their resources on AUCD’s website.  

Kristen is the Senior Program Manager for the Mental Health Developmental Disabilities (MHDD) National Training Center.  The MHDD National Training Center is a collaboration between the University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Kentucky, University of Alaska Anchorage, and Utah State University. Established in 2018 through funding provided by the Administration for Community Living, they work to improve mental health services and supports for people with developmental disabilities. By serving as a national clearinghouse, we help provide access to the most current evidence-based, trauma-informed, culturally responsive practices that address the mental health needs of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Contact for more information.

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National Survey of People with Disabilities and COVID-19

The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to a worldwide pandemic. Understanding how people with disabilities have been affected by COVID-19 is important as we navigate this unprecedented time. In July 2020, roughly four months after states began providing guidance in response to spread of the virus, 990 adults with disabilities from age 18 to 85 across the United States reported on topics related to how COVID-19 was affecting their lives.

The UK Human Development Institute and the Center for Dignity in Healthcare for People with Disabilities collaborated to address survey participant results about knowledge of healthcare access and rights and technology access and use. Visit the product section of the HDI Research and Evaluation page to learn more.

Contact: Dr. Chithra Adams at with any questions or for additional information.

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RETAIN Kentucky Partners With UK to Expand Service Area

When individuals leave the labor force because they become sick or have a non-work-related injury, it can be detrimental for them, their families, employers and the economy. Workers experience adverse effects on their health, family finances and quality of life. Employers lose valuable talent, productivity and incur the expense of recruiting and retraining staff. Research shows that many of these injured or ill workers could remain in their jobs or the workforce with timely and effective help.

The University of Kentucky Human Development Institute (HDI) and committed project partners are bringing return to work and stay at work early intervention strategies to faculty, staff and student employees at UK. This collaborative effort, RETAIN Kentucky, supports employees who have had a non-work-related injury or illness that puts them at risk of leaving the workforce. These services enhance and build upon on the comprehensive health and wellness program provided to university employees and support a diverse and inclusive workforce.

 “We know all too well that injuries and illnesses can change a person’s life in an instant. RETAIN Kentucky lets us highlight proven strategies that can help keep people working,” says Kathy Sheppard-Jones, principal investigator for UK’s RETAIN program and executive director of the HDI. “The resources of RETAIN can help support UK employees and keep our flagship forging ahead at full power.”

Kim Wilson, vice president and chief human resources officer for UK agrees. “We are excited to partner on the RETAIN initiative, which will benefit both injured and ill workers in our community as well as our institution. We’re grateful to have HDI within our UK community.”

RETAIN Kentucky coordinators provide support and assistance including resource referral and health care navigation, community referral services to support basic needs, vocational counseling, assistive technology assessments and peer support. Services can be delivered face-to-face or remotely through telephone and virtual meetings.

If you are an employee who may benefit from these services or a health care provider who wants to help your patients, call 859-562-3251 or email

RETAIN Kentucky services are also available for employers throughout Central Kentucky. Employers who are interested in learning additional strategies that build an inclusive and diverse workforce can call Shirley Kron, RETAIN Kentucky director of outreach and engagement, at 502-541-5314 or email

RETAIN Kentucky is funded by the United States Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy in the amount of $3.5 million under Cooperative Agreement No. OD-32548-18-75-4-21. This document does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Labor, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

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HDI Evaluation Unit expands Portfolio

Under the leadership of Dr. Chithra Adams, the HDI Evaluation Unit helps program staff, policy makers, and researchers understand how their work impacts policies, practice and the lives of others. The Unit has recently been awarded the following projects:

#TeamKentucky Emergency Grant to Address Mental Health and Substance Use grant will provide direct services to the following populations: (1) homeless individuals and families being housed in temporary shelters; (2) individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) including those with co-occurring SMI and substance use disorders (SUD) who are at risk of entering one of Kentucky’s four state adult psychiatric hospitals and those who are being discharged from a state adult psychiatric hospital and in need of transitional housing to self-isolate; (3) healthcare professionals and their families who require mental health care as a result of COVID-19; and (4) individuals impacted by COVID-19 pandemic who are experiencing mental health disorders less severe than SMI.

The Kentucky Disaster Behavioral Health Response Grant will provide crisis services, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, recovery services, and other related supports to adults and school-aged children in 21 counties in the Appalachian region of Kentucky impacted by natural disasters during 2019.

Freedom House Southeastern KY: Based in Manchester in Clay County, KY, VOA Mid-States’ proposed project will expand services for pregnant and postpartum (up to 12 months) women aged 18+ annually seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) with an emphasis on opiate use disorder and their infant and minor children age 17 and under. The widely-lauded, comprehensive, evidence-based approach will promote long-term recovery and safe, healthy, stable families

TN State Professional Development Grant: The TN SPDG will focus on increased graduation rates and postsecondary opportunities available to Tennessee students with complex needs including academic and communication skills. We anticipate a shift in high school culture to an inclusive mindset, all students engaged in meaningful grade level instruction, and the high quality use of instructional practices to meaningfully engage and teach diverse learners.

HDI will provide evaluation for the Kentucky Department of Aging and Independent Living’s new grant – Food for Thought: Equipping Senior Centers for the Next Emergency. The goal of this funding is to prepare the aging network to respond to catastrophic emergencies using strategies, actions and plans that have been tested in the aftermath of the only real-life pandemic experience within the last century. 

The HDI Evaluation Unit also will do the field work for the Consumer Satisfaction Survey (PI: Katie Wolf Whaley), ASL Intepreting Services (PI: Beth Potter), and the Statewide Needs Assessment project for the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Contact for more information.