Community Inclusionist William Kiernan
Dr. William Kiernan, director of the nationally acclaimed UMass Boston Institute for Community Inclusion, delivers the keynote address at the National Conference on Disability, Inclusion, and Community Service.
In 1967, aglow in the success of graduating from Boston University with a B.A. in psychology, Bill Kiernan pushed open the doors to the South Shore Rehabilitation Center, taking stock of the road ahead. As a counselor there he began what has become an endless pilgrimage to achieve social justice for people with disabilities.
During his March 2011 testimony before the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, he stated, “The evolution of the self advocacy movement has again shown that persons with disabilities do not want to live in poverty, work in segregated settings, or be told what they have to do. Many in the self-advocacy movement seek to be involved and have adopted the mantra ‘Nothing about us without us’...There are clear messages coming from the self-advocates and students with disabilities that employment and getting out of poverty are a goal for them.”
Under his leadership as director, the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), a joint venture of UMass Boston and Children’s Hospital Boston, has inspired and drawn to it a cadre of true believers, some of them with disabilities. The ICI staff members and partners work tirelessly to ensure the full participation of the disabled in all aspects of society. In 2012, Kiernan was appointed founding dean of the UMass Boston School for Global Inclusion and Social Development.
Kiernan has also served as president of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, as well as the president of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. In addition to holding a Ph.D. in rehabilitation and special education from Boston College, Kiernan has a master’s in rehabilitation counseling and a second master’s in business administration with a concentration in health care management from Boston University.
In 2010, Kiernan was awarded a $16.8 million, five-year grant by the U.S. Department of Education—the largest in UMass Boston’s history. The grant’s purpose is to help state agencies assist people with disabilities find paid work in their communities. The project’s first goal is to create a national model for state agencies, train agencies to implement this model, and evaluate the model’s effectiveness.
The project focuses on people who receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and are using their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency services. Those who are eligible for both SSDI and state vocational services are likely to have significant physical, health-related, psychiatric, sensory, intellectual, or communication disabilities. In most cases, these people acquired their disability after taking part in the workforce for some number of years and contributing to Social Security.
The project’s second primary goal is to demonstrate the value of employment services to SSDI beneficiaries, the Social Security Administration, other state and federal agencies, disability advocates, politicians, employers, and the nation’s citizenry.
There are few greater forms of courage than that shown by a person with a disability who greets each day with dignity and the resolve to go on living as they, not others, choose. Through his work at the ICI, Kiernan and his colleagues help promote this courage.