Episode 6: Improving Quality of Life for IDD with THINK+change Transcript

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (00:10):

Welcome back to the MediSked Podcast! Our guest today is Erica Dennison, THINK+change and Programs Director at The Arc of Aurora in Colorado. She’s here to talk about THINK+change, which is The Arc of Aurora’s social enterprise training and education program that strives to change knowledge, attitude, and behavior to ultimately improve the quality of life for people with IDD, their families, and the professionals in their lives. Erica, thank you for joining us to spread the word about this great program! Why don’t you start by telling us about yourself? How did you get involved in the IDD field? How long have you been at the Arc of Aurora and what does your role there entail?

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (00:51):

Yeah, sure. Thank you for having me today. I hope everyone’s doing well who’s tuning in. As she introduced my name’s Erica Dennison and I’ve been with the Arc of Aurora since 2017. Really I’ve personally dedicated my life’s work to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities here. And after I’m gonna say IDD cuz it’s kind of a mouthful <laugh> uh really much attributed to my lived experience of having a brother with an IDD and my career. I’m really proud to say, you know, it spans about 19 years, including working a variety of roles in IDD here in Colorado. So, um, I’m really dedicated to the standards of person practices and self-determination, and, um, it’s just something that’s really near and dear to my heart, here at the Arc of Aurora. So we are an advocacy organization that specifically serves the city of Aurora here in Colorado. And our advocacy is really targeted towards supporting and working with and on behalf of children and adults of all ages who have IDD in their families. So it’s really helping them follow their folly and make sure that the, those programs and services that are supposed to be helping them, whether it’s education, um, adult programming, through Medicaid supports things like that are really doing what they need to be doing to make sure that, um, everyone is, you know, living their best life and getting the supports and services that they need. Um, in my role here, um, I’ve been here for about five years now and I manage the THINK+change program, um, which is our social enterprise and training and education program. And what’s really great about THINK+change is we have a really long history of training education at the arc of Aurora. Um, and it’s really adjunct to our advocacy work of the stories and issues and topics that we really experience working with those that we work directly with. And so we had an opportunity to learn how to create a social enterprise many years ago, and from that was kind of the birth of THINK+change and that happened in 2017.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (03:04):

That’s awesome. Awesome. Thank you so much for all of your important work that you’ve been doing over the last 19 years. MediSked is also turning 19 this year. So we’ve been in business for the same amount of time that you’ve been in the industry. What a coincidence!

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (03:19):

Happiest of birthdays to you.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (03:22):

So THINK+change provides talks, trainings and tools as resources for parents, case management agencies, home care, direct support professionals, goods, and services, community businesses, churches, law enforcement, emergency services, victim service providers, and more, what are these talks, trainings and tools. And what’s the difference between the three, if someone’s interested, where should they start

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (03:50):

And what a mouthful, all of that was for you to say, I’m so sorry, but thank you for the question it’s super important. Um, so with THINK+change the Arc of Aurora as training an education program, we, uh, really have three products that we produce called talks, trainings and tools. And so the difference between those three is quite different. So our talks are really short mini documentary storytelling series, where we interview people who have disabilities or lived experience of working with people with disabilities, maybe have a loved one with disabilities on topics that we need to hear their firsthand experience, because THINK+change is really all about partnership in our community. And we have a lot to say here as professionals with the organization, but we think it’s so important to get other people people’s perspective of their lived experience. And so, um, we really love those and they’re really meant to be provocative, um, series that really are meant to get people to think about their thinking into spurred dialogue and to recognize inclusion.

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (04:57):

So we have currently, um, about dozen talks available on an array of topics. For example, I just wrapped one up, um, on, uh, that I titled, “A Right to Love: The Connection of Love and Disability,” where we interviewed people who wanna share their firsthand experience. You know, of, uh, we interviewed a woman who is a neurodiverse dating coach and what, what people need to know about people, uh, on the autism spectrum and, and their right to have love. We interviewed someone who identifies as fem and what that looks like for her identity. We interviewed a couple with developmental disabilities. Who’s been married for over 30 years and a couple with children where one has a visible disability and another one does not. We also interviewed someone last a, a group of people last year where we, um, felt it was really pressing and time to talk about blended identities and the connection of race and disability.

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (05:57):

And so we have an array of topics. I could go over every single topic with you today, but I think we’d be here for quite some time, but that’s kinda what talks are about our trainings. We have kind of like three different training product lines. Um, subproducts under trainings we offer microlearning because we all know that we are tasked with so many things day to day and trying to sit there and focus maybe on a multi-hour training is just so hard for us to focus because you can’t turn your brain off. And we know that short microlearning units is really helpful and valuable. So we have like prerecorded videos that people can watch. Um, we also have, um, uh, podcasts and podcasts. So here we are, everyone knows what a podcast is. You know, we talk audibly about important topics and issues, uh, affecting people with disabilities. But we also turn that into a vodcast because we wanna be really accessible for the vast community that we’re working with. So some people have, or to listen to us audibly or visually. And, um, with those, we, um, use ourselves as experts on topics and issues that we need to be talking about, uh, for direct experience that we’ve worked with. We also use external professionals on particular topics. If we don’t feel that we’re the best fit, we absolutely wanna invite people to join us and share important information with those who are tuning in. And so, um, we really love being able to do that. Uh, and our podcast and podcast library is also really vast. We have topics reaching from autism spectrum disorder to the Americans with disabilities act to, um, particular services and supports and rights of people with disabilities. So we really encourage people to check those out too. We also, in, early 2020, we had, an opportunity to roll out an online on demand, self place, learning platform called THINK+change academy, where we have this, um, online course library, uh, that is really solutions focused and, um, specific content based on particular topics that really affect people with disabilities. And so we have a course on there about like transforming the special education school to prison pipeline, um, as well as, you know, all these, you know, families when COVID first hit, they were tasked with, well, how do I school a child in special education from home? So we rolled out a course for that. All of the courses you could take on your own time and at your own pace, through all closed captions, as are any videos that we rolled out, cuz we really, it or accessibility for all they come with certificates of completion. And it’s, it’s just been really great because we’ve had people from all over the United States access, um, THINK+change academy to really help enhance their work with people with disabilities. So it’s been really exciting for us, you know, when, when COVID hit we’re now on year three, you know, everyone kind of transitioned to online learning if you will. And it was, we were almost unintentionally ahead of the game when that unfortunately happened. And so it’s been really great to have everyone involved and you know, if someone’s interested, where should they start? I just gabbed on and on about all the things we do, they can start by visiting our website. It’s called www.thinkchange.training. You can check out all of our trainings and talks and our tools that I didn’t get to just yet, but they are tangible downloadable items that people can have and they can access them. And it’s really meant to force learning and they can also order tangible tools that we can mail to them. So it’s really great. We’re really excited and passionate about the work that we do. So we really just encourage people to check us out.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (09:45):

This is incredible and your passion about it is evident and it’s awesome. So who creates these talks, trainings and tools? Where does the expertise come from?

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (09:55):

So all, all of the talks, trainings and tools that we come up with are really inspired via the direct advocacy work and issues that we experience working one on one with the individuals, with IDD and their families in our direct Aurora community. But, um, we come up with all of the content we manage the entire production, but again, it’s really inspired by those that we work with directly. We have a really big goal of being original content based. And, um, while I said that, you know, we have internal expertise, we really do value our relationships in the community, and those are really important to us.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (10:32):

Yeah. Awesome. One of the things that we love most about this program is nearly a hundred percent of the talks, trainings and tools are available at no cost. So where does the funding come from for this initiative?

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (10:44):

That’s a great question. Um, so the Arc of Aurora, we are a not for profit, um, and THINK+change is a program of the Arc of Aurora. So the overhead of creating our talks, trainings and tools is really covered by sponsorship from other disability organizations in our community that are really aligned with our mission of supporting people with developmental disabilities. And we are so grateful for our community partners because really because of them, we’re able to do the work that we do. Um, and what’s great though, is that we really feel like they also align with our mission and values of really thinking that and knowing that training and education is the least intrusive form of advocacy, um, and together we can really help change people’s impression and, um, create larger values and, you know, talk about people’s responsibilities and, and how we can all kind of come together and having a positive, social impact and meaningful dialogue around topics and issues that really do impact people with disabilities in our communities.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (11:45):

Incredible well, Erica, thank you again so much for sharing all of this information. Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with our listeners?

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (11:54):

I just encourage people to give us a chance. You know, we are a small but mighty team in a town in Colorado, and we know that there is so much available out there, but we encourage you to check us out and see what is available. Like we’ve said, you know, nearly 100% of our talks, trainings, and tools are available at no cost because of our, our community partners and sponsors. And so, you know, it’s there for you, um, to help reshape your thinking and all it’s really gonna cost is your time. Um, so we really do invite people to join us, to help change perception and realities and their knowledge to really advance the livelihood of people with and their families and the professionals in their lives.

Abby Rose Esposito, MediSked (12:36):

Awesome. Well, MediSked definitely supports the THINK+change mission, and we encourage everyone to check out thinkchange.training. Thanks again for being here, Erica.

Erica Dennison, The Arc of Aurora (12:47):

Thanks for having me.