Breaking Ground 111 (October 2022)

Introduction by Lauren Pearcy, Council Executive Director

Dear Readers,

As the school year begins for many of us, this edition of Breaking Ground will highlight stories about students with disabilities and different paths to adulthood. As I read the articles myself, I thought about the young people I’ve met recently on their own paths.

One young woman who stands out is a student at Access ETSU – the inclusive higher education program at East Tennessee State University. She gave me a tour when I visited in June. As we walked around campus, we talked about her academic focus in art and history. She explained that she is a third generation Buccaneer. In addition to taking academic courses, she interns in the campus museum where her grandmother’s art is on display. I asked her if she considered any other college. She shook her head no, vigorously. It struck me right then that without inclusive higher education programs like Access ETSU, my tour guide would have had a completely different life story, and family legacy, simply because of her disability.

We continued on. My tour guide pointed out places that made me nostalgic for my own college experience:

  • where she and friends hang out in common places (including a long, epic slide down a hillside)
  • where she studies alongside thousands of other students in the library (The library research assistant greeted her by name.)
  • where she exercises in the state-of-the-art gymnasium

I saw that everyone on campus interacts daily with people who have intellectual disabilities, thanks to inclusive higher education. What a marked change from just a decade ago when these programs did not exist.

Before I left campus, I pointed out a huge poster of a student playing basketball. “He is one of the first graduates of Access ETSU,” my tour guide explained. I looked again and realized I recognized the young man. He is starting the Council’s Partners in Policymaking® leadership academy this fall. I smiled when I thought about how much these young people will do in their lifetimes, simply because we are (finally) giving them a chance to do so.

Wishing a great start to the school year to those of you in that season, and a great start to fall for all of us,


Executive Director, TN Council on Developmental Disabilities