Cindy Thielen: Reflections on My First AUCD Conference

Cindy Thielen, front row, third from left, in a group of AUCD Conference attendees.
Photo caption: Cindy Thielen, CCIDS Administrative Specialist and 2019-2020 NH-ME LEND trainee, appears in the AUCD Conference group photo above: front row, third person from the left.

Choosing to attend the November 2019 Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) annual conference as a NH-ME Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) trainee and self-advocate was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Shortly after arriving on Sunday, November 17th, I attended the Council on Leadership in Advocacy meeting and I was happy to see that there were so many self-advocate leaders across our national network. The staff did a great job at making sure that everyone could be heard and could understand what was being said. I remember telling my mother after the conference that it was a place where I could just be me and not have to worry about being different. She was happy to hear that.

Before the conference, I was awarded one of four AUCD trainee volunteer scholarships that allowed me to cover some of my travel expenses and help out in different areas during the event. My volunteer areas included two poster sessions, the registration desk, and the marketplace table. Each area allowed me to meet a lot of different people, and I was amazed to see just how much is going on with other network members.

In one notable instance, I was helping out at the conference registration table when CCIDS Associate Director Sue Russell introduced me to Ben Kaufman, who is the Senior Program Manager for AUCD. He offered me the opportunity to join a workgroup, Purposeful Inclusion for People with Disabilities, and I was happy to help.

As a LEND trainee, I attended a couple of networking meetings, including the LEND trainee breakfast. Trainees were able to go around to different tables to meet different professionals. I had the opportunity to meet a lady who helps out with the Disability Studies program at the University of Illinois at Chicago and everyone at the table got into a good conversation about the program as well as other topics, such as guardianship issues.

I feel that attending the AUCD conference has allowed me to get my foot in the door with self-advocacy leadership and other opportunities to help out within our AUCD and UCEDD network. My areas of interest include the ABLE Act, as well as Supported Decision-Making and guardianship issues.