Extending empathy and understanding

Loyola’s LEAD and ASPIRE programs provide online training for first responders to understand and communicate with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Regional pilot program aims to help marginalized members of our communities

When first responders arrive on a scene, they are trained on how to handle a critical situation or emergency. But they are not always trained on how to approach individuals who have intellectual or developmental disabilities in such situations.

This is an issue two Loyola faculty members sought to address. Last year, Lisa Schoenbrodt, Ed.D., professor of speech-language-hearing science, and Leah Katherine Saal, Ph.D., associate professor of literacy, worked with Loyola’s ASPIRE program to develop and launch an online synchronous role-play scenario curriculum involving authentic interactions with self-advocate educators with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD/DD). They also created an online asynchronous training curriculum.

The innovative project, LEAD Program Online Regional Pilot for FIRE/EMS, was funded through a one-year $26,933 grant from the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council. The grant expanded the existing Learning to Lead: Training Self-Advocate Educators for Law Enforcement (LEAD) Program to an online regional pilot to train first responders to understand and communicate with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Blending asynchronous and synchronous components better meets the needs of busy providers for continuing education in a pandemic and beyond,” Schoenbrodt said. “A critical part of this program continues to be learning from self-advocates with lived experiences in real time.

Saal and Schoenbrodt collaborated with Rae Oliveira, advanced life support program coordinator for Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, and Donald Wiegel, EMS education program manager at Howard County Fire and Rescue Services, to align the program to meet national emergency medical provider standards. In addition, Kristie Anders, instructional designer for the Center for Continuing Education at Loyola, assisted with creating the curriculum on Loyola’s ASPIRE platform.

Throughout this process, not only has ASPIRE been able to help support the development and distribution of this training, but I've been reminded about the importance of taking time to understand and empathizing with others.

“ASPIRE is working to support the community more directly through programs, courses, and trainings like this,” said Anders. “The ASPIRE program is one way Loyola can reach more people in the community. Loyola's mission about caring for the whole person is also about caring for people as a whole—and that means being intentional about partnering with and supporting other organizations and groups that focus on marginalized people.”

The training, which consists of self-paced learning modules, is a necessary resource for fire and emergency medical responders to learn more about techniques and effective communication measures when assisting people with IDD/DD.

Adam Hays, a self-advocate educator, shares why this program is so important.

“Throughout this process, not only has ASPIRE been able to help support the development and distribution of this training, but I've been reminded about the importance of taking time to understand and empathizing with others,” said Anders. “It's been one of the most meaningful projects I've worked on at ASPIRE because I can clearly see how this training can impact the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

The program provides a sustainable virtual model of delivery for the five regions in Maryland and is the first to include self-advocate educators with lived experience as the core of the training.

So far, more than 50 first responders have gone through the training.

“Based on our interaction with local EMS providers and trainers, as well as our recent National presentation at the National Association of EMS educators (NAEMSE), we have received a great deal of interest about expanding this program,” said Saal.

“Our next steps are to seek the approval from Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMMS) to include this curriculum as an approved continuing education course for FIRE/EMS providers in Maryland.”

The LEAD program, created by Loyola in collaboration with Best Buddies and the Municipal Police Academy, provides officers training to help interactions with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program was created by the Ethan Saylor Alliance, a foundation started to honor Ethan Saylor, who had Down syndrome and died after an encounter with law enforcement.