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Faculty members receive award for training program involving first responders

Lisa Schoenbrodt, Ed.D., professor of speech-language-hearing sciences and department chair, and Leah Katherine Saal, Ph.D., assistant professor of literacy and co-director of the literacy program, have been awarded almost $100,000 from the Maryland Department of Disabilities (MDOD)/Ethan Saylor Alliance and the Maryland Department of Development Disabilities for their innovative project, “LEADING FORWARD: Training Self-Advocate Educators for First Responders.”

This is the second consecutive award the faculty have received for the LEAD program, which works to recruit, hire, train, and supervise individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These individuals will serve as self-advocate educators alongside law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS/EMTS throughout the State of Maryland.

Previously, Schoenbrodt and Saal received funding to pilot the LEAD program in Prince George’s Community College Municipal Police Academy. This new funding—including an additional $25,000 in philanthropic support from Lynne and Don Myers in memory of their son, Eric Davis Myers—will support the continuation and expansion of the training program in Prince George’s County. It will also help expand the program to include Montgomery  County first responders and Baltimore City police officers.

The LEAD program creates strategic partnerships between law enforcement departments, academic institutions, and community-based advocacy organizations. The three components work together at a local level to recruit, equip, support, and evaluate leaders as trainers.

 “Our work directly speaks to the mission of our Jesuit institution by working with and for others for social justice—specifically, by supporting people with disabilities to advocate for themselves to be safe, included, and understood in first-responder training and in our communities,” said Schoenbrodt.

Schoenbrodt and Saal—along with their partners at Best Buddies of Maryland and other local advocacy groups for people with disabilities—have already started recruiting the new class of self-advocate educators who will train with veterans from last year’s training program. This year’s curriculum will help all first responders understand and apply concepts of clear communication and de-escalation techniques when working with members of our communities with disabilities. Through role plays that target real-life situations, first responders learn and practice skills to help them respond effectively and empathically to individuals with disabilities.

“Receiving this funding has allowed us to develop and expand this important work at a time when this training is needed most,” said Saal. “Each training session is an adventure and an accomplishment. We are also proud to do this work with the State of Maryland, which is leading national initiatives in this area.”