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HDI Celebrates National Mentoring Month

January is National Mentoring Month, and that makes it a great time to highlight HDI’s Disability Mentoring Program.

The program pairs people with disabilities with students who want to learn more about their experiences.

“The thing that makes it work is that people that are actually in the program, get that firsthand experience with disability. They get to talk to somebody that’s living the life,”said Jason Jones, coordinates the program alongside Elizabeth Thompson.

“The cool thing about this program is that it’s not all 19 or 20 year olds in college, it’s people in different places and their careers,” Jones said of the program’s participants.

The idea, Thompson said, is that both mentors and mentees learn from the experience.

“Our goal is to help build more inclusive communities, and improve the quality of life for people with disabilities, and for our LEND students, who are graduate students…to go out into the communities with a better view of that lived experience,” Thompson said.

For Jon Drummond, who went on to work with HDI as a research assistant, the program not only resulted in a lot of learning, but also a long-term friendship.

“We realized, I think, that we were two people that could probably be an honest sounding board for each other,” Drummond said.

The mentor Drummond was paired with had his larynx removed and used assistive technology to speak. While Drummond had never had a similar circumstance, he found that he and his mentor had a lot else in common. They were both PhD students, and Drummond found it interesting that after his mentor completely changed the direction of his dissertation research during this process to focus on others who had similar disabilities.

“He was venturing into a place and experience and subculture that he did not know well. But it was also a subculture that simultaneously was of unlimited value to him, because not only did he use it for his dissertation, he learned a lot from the people he interviewed who also had gone through a similar thing about how to navigate the world, how to make up for things that were frustrating, how to make up for things that he saw initially as deficits all the later maybe they weren’t deficits, they were just different,” Drummond said. “One of the responses was one of his advisors saying, ‘You can’t not do this.’”

Samantha Harrison, meanwhile, served as a mentor for the program and found that it allowed her to open up about subjects that she’d previously had a hard time talking about.

“This program was the first time I had ever disclosed my own disability to a learner. I do a lot of training in my work in the disability field,” Harrison said. “Oftentimes it’s not something that I feel comfortable disclosing because I’m usually in some kind of position of supervision. As I go through my own journey of exploring my neurodiversity, it’s becoming easier to talk about it. At the time that this session occurred with my mentee, it was the first time I really had put that out there. It was a very unique experience and something that I’m still learning from.”

She also appreciated the chance to share her expertise on systems and supports for people with disabilities for a new generation that was unfamiliar with them.

“This opportunity was an incredible way to help increase awareness of self-direction, especially among young professionals. she said. “As we deal with this caregiver crisis and the workforce issues that we’re having, we have to educate young people about the options for long-term services and supports. And I think there’s still a large stigma that if you need long-term services, that you end up in a nursing facility or other institution. Changing that stigma starts with educating people about options. How can you decide to hire your own people to support you if the only option you know is hiring an agency or going to a nursing home?  Mentoring learners in this program about long-term support alternatives and how all people, particularly people with disabilities, can contribute to a more inclusive future is a great place to start.”

According to Jones, that’s the ideal – both the mentor and the mentee grow from it.

“Both sides should be getting something out of it,” he said. “Success, to me, is when the mentor and the mentee both say ‘I enjoyed this relationship, I enjoyed the conversation, I really feel like I’ve learned something.’”

Recharging Resiliency Together

Register now for Recharging Resiliency Together! HDI would like to thank the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Quality of Life Grants Program for providing funding which helps give greater independence to individuals living with paralysis. This grant will provide our community with services and education that will truly enhance all our lives.

This virtual retreat will help you recharge your resilience by building your coping skills and expanding your social network to gain the necessary connections and supports to navigate the COVID-19 environment. After each retreat, follow-up group calls will be held to help participants use the skills learned during the retreat and lean into their peers for support.

Who can participate? Anyone 18 or older who has paralysis and lives in Kentucky.

What do you need to participate? Be available from 10:00am – 3:00pm for five consecutive days; have access to the Internet; have a tablet or laptop. Participants should select one session only.

Session 1: March 22 – 26

Session 2: May 10 – 14

Session 3: July 12 – 16

Session 4: September 13 – 17

Learn more and register at Contact Jason Jones at with any questions.

Virtual Retreat

HDI receives Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Grant

A team of HDI staff including Dr. Chithra Adams, Jason Jones, Lindsey Mullis and Abby Marsh have received $50,000 through Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation’s 2020 COVID-19 Quality of Life grants program, funded through a cooperative agreement with the Administration for Community Living. Their proposal, Recharging Resiliency Together-Virtual Retreat will help people with paralysis recharge their resilience and provide the necessary connections and supports that are needed to navigate in a COVID-19 environment.

This series of virtual retreats will be accompanied by three follow up group calls to build upon the skills learned during the retreat and to build a tightknit group of peers (pods) who are supportive of one another. Each session in the retreat will be universally designed, accessible and have expert presentation followed by a group activity. The purpose of the group activity is to participate in real time sense-making about how strategies presented can be used presently or in the future.

Contact for more information.

Jason Jones Staff Photo

HDI staff receive the Tom Gravitt Advocacy Award

Jason Jones, Disability Specialist, and Dr. Kathy Sheppard-Jones, Executive Director, have received the 2020 Tom Gravitt Advocacy Award from the Kentucky Congress on Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).

This award recognizes individuals who have had an exemplary impact on the SCI community and the disability community at large. These individuals enrich the lives of people with disabilities by being an advocate who fosters respect, access, and equal opportunities for all.

The award is named after Tom Gravitt, who obtained a SCI in his early twenties and fought tirelessly for almost 50 years as an advocate for all people with disabilities. This year’s recipients join previous Tom Gravitt Advocacy Award winners including Beth Bryant (2016), David Allgood (2017), Richard Moloney (2018), and Sasha Rabchevsky (2019).

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4th Thursday ADA Talks: September

HDI and HDI CATS host an ADA Training series held on the fourth Thursday of each month covering different topics surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act featuring Jason Jones as the lead speaker.

In September, the talk will focus on “Religious Institutions and the ADA.” Join us on September 26 from 10-11am online or at HDI CATS on 2358 Nicholasville Rd. Suite 180, Lexington, KY.

September Registration: Continue reading