Campus News

Op-ed: UK, HDI celebrate Disability Pride Month, announce community project

Photo of Kathy Sheppard-Jones.

Kathy Sheppard-Jones, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Human Development Institute at the University of Kentucky, which is Kentucky’s University Center on Disability. She leads 340 full and part-time interdisciplinary staff in promoting the inclusion, independence and contributions of people with disabilities and their families throughout the lifespan. An active researcher with over $70 million in lifetime externally funded grants and contracts, she oversees projects around employment, higher education, quality assurance, leadership and universal design.

The op-ed below was written by Sheppard-Jones who is a power wheelchair user and channeled her experiences with assistive technology into earning a Ph.D. in educational psychology. Through her work at HDI, she continues to help build inclusive communities for Kentucky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 13, 2023) — As we recognize Disability Pride month in July, we honor all whose identities include the demographic of disability. In Kentucky, roughly one in three adults has a disability.

This is a time to reflect on all the progress that has been made — including the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990. This landmark anti-discrimination legislation paved the way for change across the country. Kentucky recently became an Employment First state, meaning that competitive integrated employment is a right for people with disabilities who want to work.

While there has been great progress, there is still much work to do. Post-school outcomes for students with disabilities in Kentucky still lag behind their non-disabled peers. The disparity is further evidenced when considering the 42% gap in employment rate between Kentuckians with and without disabilities. This is the 48th-largest gap in the nation. In this instance, bigger is not better. Access to health care, transportation and technology are still challenges for many in the Commonwealth.

Getting involved
As part of Disability Pride month, UK’s Human Development Institute (HDI) is offering ways to get involved. HDI staff Austin Nugent and Morgan Turner will offer a 30-minute presentation, “Celebrating Disability Pride & Resources” on Wednesday, July 26, at 1 p.m. via Zoom. You can register online here.

HDI is also developing a Disability Pride video that will be released at the end of July. HDI invites the public to be part of this project by responding to the question, “What does disability pride mean to you?”

Anyone who wants to participate can share their response here or submit an audio or video file for the project. If you have questions, you can contact Kathy Sheppard-Jones at or by texting or calling 859-576-2991.

Responses received by July 19 may be included in a celebration video that will be shared on HDI’s website.

Celebrating and supporting Disability Pride
Disability Pride month is a time to celebrate the disability community and learn about the year-round offerings and resources available across UK’s colleges and units, including:

The Undergraduate Certificate in Universal Design gives students a foundation in the principles of universal design and its applications across disciplines. Universal design creates environments and resources that are usable by people across the lifespan. Universal design uses a broad set of strategies that promote the inclusion and participation of all within a diverse world. Housed in the UK College of Design, the certificate offers new ways to consider useability and access in physical and digital environments. You can learn more about the certificate here.

The new Disability Employee Affinity Group (EAG) provides a community of belonging and learning among faculty and staff with disabilities — a community that fosters the development of expertise, mutual interests and solidarity among members. Disability EAG co-chairs are Mieccia Samuels and Robyn Brown. To be added to the Disability EAG email list, UK staff and faculty can provide their contact information here.

For students at UK, the Disability Resource Center (DRC) provides services that enable students with disabilities to fully participate in university life. The DRC provides a variety of services and collaborates with partners around Lexington and the state, making it a valuable resource for students and faculty. Find more information online here.

The UK College and Career Studies Program for students with intellectual disabilities who want to continue their academic journey will host its second incoming cohort in the Fall 2023 semester. As part of a national network of Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) programs, UK’s College and Career Studies Program offers individualized support and person-centered planning, so that students may engage not only in classes but in all aspects of campus life. You can find more information online here or contact Erin Fitzgerald (

Additionally, UK HealthCare is embarking on a new partnership with Fayette County Public Schools, the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and HDI. Project SEARCH is a nine-month internship program for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Participants will work in a setting that promotes teaching and learning, as they grow new skills to become competitive in their field of choice. Contact Tukea Talbert, D.N.P., ( to learn more about this initiative that is a key strategy for workforce management and provides a new recruitment pathway for UK HealthCare.

The Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network (KARRN) is a collaborative team that advocates to empower communities impacted by disability. Several colleges and units across UK and the community partner to advocate, share and offer resources in support of improving the quality of life for all. Learn more here.

The Center for Assistive Technology Services (CATS) is Lexington’s Assistive Technology Regional Center. CATS provides access to assistive technology devices to Kentuckians with disabilities and their families through a lending library available for checkout. CATS also provides training on AT and relevant legislation, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, to the UK and general community, professionals and students. Learn more here. The Appalachian Center for Assistive Technology (ACAT) provides regional AT services for Eastern Kentucky. ACAT is led by Patrick Kitzman in the College of Health Sciences. Search the full inventory of AT devices at

The University Lecture Series is a catalog of one-hour lectures on disability-related topics that are available for in-person classes or via Zoom. Presenters are people with disabilities, family members of people with disabilities and HDI staff. You can find more information online here or contact Nicholas Wright, Ph.D., ( to schedule a presentation.  

The RETAIN Kentucky project at HDI offers return-to-work and stay-at-work early intervention services and training for faculty, staff and student employees at UK. RETAIN supports staff who have had a non-work-related injury or illness that puts them at risk of leaving the workforce. If you are an employee who may benefit from these services or a health care provider who wants to help your patients return-to-work, call 859-562-3251 or email

The Inclusive Workforce Summit will be held Wednesday, Sept. 13, at the Embassy Suites, Newtown Pike, in Lexington. The Summit will highlight people with disabilities as an untapped talent pool. Topics include the impact of work on health, return-to-work and stay-at-work strategies, universal design and more. This event is a partnership with UK, the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board and is hosted by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Learn more and register here.

This month is a call to action. Join us in advocating for disability rights and for a world that is accessible and inclusive for all. Raise expectations. Reject stereotypes. Take advantage of the many ways that you can celebrate Disability Pride here at the University of Kentucky in July and all year long!

About the Human Development Institute
The Human Development Institute (HDI) is a unit of the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Kentucky and Kentucky’s University Center on Disability. HDI’s mission is to advance efforts that build inclusive communities, address inequities and improve the lives of all people who experience disability across the lifespan.

HDI also serves as the statewide technical assistance center supporting CTP programs at Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, and Bluegrass Community and Technical College, as well as a resource to other Kentucky colleges and universities interested in establishing a program.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.