TASH conference comes to St. Louis this month, boasts strong ties to UMSL

TASH, 2016

This year’s TASH conference will be held at the historic St. Louis Union Station Hotel Nov. 30 to Dec. 2. It will feature over 300 sessions on topics that range from inclusive education to employment, human rights, recreation and leisure, and more. (Image courtesy of April Regester and TASH)

A national organization known for its extraordinary commitment to and work within the disability rights movement is coming to St. Louis in a few short weeks.

TASH’s 41st annual conference will kick off Nov. 30 and promises to include a host of resources, activities and presentations that aim to foster connections between people who feel passionately about the importance of access, support, inclusion and equity for individuals with disabilities in society.

Many faculty, staff and student members of the University of Missouri–St. Louis family have connections to the conference this year – including UMSL education Professor April Regester.

UMSL Daily recently caught up with Regester to explore her multi-faceted role at the conference and to inquire about why she feels it, along with related efforts at UMSL, are so essential.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your professional background in general? Perhaps a bit about what you teach and your research interests?

Yes, I am an associate professor in special education. This is housed in the Educator Preparation, Innovation and Research Department within the College of Education. I earned my PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara in special education, disabilities and risk studies. My research interests include friendship development and social supports for individuals with significant disabilities. I also conduct research in positive behavior supports, inclusive education, transition services, and college and adult life skills supports for individuals with disabilities. I currently teach courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs related to positive behavior support and transition.

April Regester, Education Professor

April Regester has been with the UMSL College of Education since 2010 and involved with the TASH organization since her teen years. (Photo by August Jennewein)

What is it that drives you toward your work in special education and disability studies? Or perhaps a better way to phrase it might be, why does your work feel vital?

I was deeply impacted by my own experiences as a high school student, participating in programs that purposefully included students with and without developmental disabilities. Those experiences and the friendships I made led me to feel very strongly about access, equity and inclusion for individuals with disabilities. I recognized not only the benefits of inclusive education for those with disabilities, but the benefits to students without disabilities to learn in an environment that recognized the strengths and challenges we all face and the importance of working interdependently to reach our goals.

Could you tell me about the work that TASH does and why you feel it’s so important? How did you come to be so involved?

I am on the national board for TASH and am the current Missouri president. I served as the 2015 conference chair and am also the chair for 2016. TASH aligns very well with the things I value the most. TASH advocates for the equity, opportunity and inclusion for people with disabilities in education, employment and in the community. It is the only organization of its kind that intentionally brings together many stakeholders (self-advocates, parents/caregivers, educators, researchers, service providers, peers, etc) to exchange ideas, share best practices and encourage effective policy change to support the success of individuals with the most significant support needs.

I presented at my first TASH with my high school peers when I was 15 years old. I had no idea at the time that this would become my future work – however, I did know that my friends deserved to have the same level of opportunity as I did, and I viewed the people and work of TASH to be moving in that direction.

In addition to your other TASH duties, you’ll be presenting – along with other UMSL faculty, staff, students and parents – at this year’s conference. The topic is connected to the SUCCEED program at UMSL. Could you tell me a little bit about the presentation and SUCCEED?

The SUCCEED program, which is a post-secondary program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is an example of how UMSL values diversity and inclusion. It was the second program of its kind in our state and provides a college experience for a population of students who never before had this opportunity.

We will be presenting on “Achieving Inclusive Post-secondary Education Through Interdisciplinary Collaboration.” Our presentation will aim to cover a variety of topics that may be relevant to anyone looking to either develop, attend or enhance a post-secondary program like SUCCEED. We’ll discuss the program’s relevance and importance, highlight lessons we’ve learned as we continue to work on and shape the program, identify tips for successful collaboration across campus environments and more.

This year’s theme for the TASH Conference is “Gateway to Equity.” Equity is such a powerful word, and yet I think it’s also one that some people get caught up on sometimes. (Why equity versus equality, for instance?) What strikes you as being especially important about this theme?

I love this theme – I think it captures a lot of the work that TASH has done over the years. This supports the idea of equity meaning that individuals with disabilities are provided equal opportunities and receive the supports they need to be included in all aspects of life. Equality would simply mean they are given the same supports. TASH provides the tools, strategies and collaboration to support individuals with disabilities in living equitable lives.

Is there anything more you’d like to add or share? Anything about TASH or efforts at UMSL that you feel deserves more recognition?

DESE (the Missouri State Department of Education) is partnering with CEEDAR (a national grant that I am a part of) and sending faculty, students and school district partners to attend the TASH conference in order to learn more about how to best prepare teachers to educate all students. In fact, a CEEDAR strand will run throughout the conference. So that’s a great partnership and initiative that I’m proud to be a part of, and it’s a great step forward in efforts toward truly inclusive teacher preparation.

For more information about TASH and the upcoming conference, please contact April Regester at regestera@umsl.edu.

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