35th Anniversary Edition

Growth, Change, and Looking Forward


Amy Hewitt began serving as director of the Institute on Community Integration in 2018.

A man wearing blue jeans and a dark sweater sits in a wheelchair next to a seated woman with glasses wearing a jean jacket and scarf. They are sitting in an office with an issue of Impact magazine on the table.

Amy Hewitt and John Smith in the Institute on Community Integration’s former location in Pattee Hall

Impact has stood the test of time over these past 35 years, and the same cannot be said about most products that evolve from grants. Without question, it is the flagship publication of the Institute on Community Integration (ICI), and in some ways people know ICI because they know Impact. It is well-known and respected for a few key reasons: 1) it derives from community priorities and needs, 2) it invites others in by promoting collaboration with varied stakeholders who have different perspectives from within ICI, across the United States and internationally, 3) it connects research to policy and practice and 4) it has kept up with trends in communication and technology.

Community needs and priorities.

The rich assortment of topics and issues highlighted in Impact over the years is a reflection of the early commitment for this publication to be true to people’s needs and experiences. I remember so many issues over the years, including an issue on faith and the importance of inclusive faith communities. This issue pointed out that too often, people who were living in a group home may be taken to a church of convenience, whether it was their chosen faith or not. At the time, there was not a lot of research on this topic, but we knew it was happening. That issue of Impact highlighted the importance of faith and strategies to include persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their faith communities of choice. There was a need, and we were able to use one of our publications to highlight the need and shape practice through stories and information. So many issues of Impact have been able to open important topics for conversation that hopefully lead to action in research, policy, and practice.

The most recent issue of Impact was focused on engaging communities underrepresented in disability research. For decades, our research has shown there is disproportionality in terms of utilization of all types of disability-focused community services. We know there is disproportionality in special education, in employment, in home and community-based services, in healthcare, and in many other areas. When I think about it, basically in any aspect of a person’s life in which they receive support, disparities exist for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and when you consider the intersectionality of having an IDD and being from a historically marginalized racial, ethnic, linguistic, or cultural background, the disparities are greater. This issue of Impact gave the message from varied perspectives that it’s time, as a system, as service providers, as individuals that we stop and reflect on these experiences of persons with IDD.

We have to dig deeper, beyond just documenting who gets a service and who doesn’t and how much they get. That’s not equity. We need to look at how services are being offered. Are they services that are acceptable to people, based on their cultural backgrounds? We need to look more closely at how we are measuring outcomes when we know not everyone is looking for or wants the same things. We need to develop measures about what equitable service is, and is not. As discussed in that particular issue, we’ve got a long way to go.

Impact is a publication that represents the whole of ICI and brings us together. Each year, the topics that are selected align with the various programmatic focus areas at ICI: early intervention, education policy and services, community living and employment and global disability rights and inclusion. When I look back over all the past issues, clearly, we have touched on so many important topics related to each of these broad program areas.

A woman with glasses, standing in front of a timeline board with the years 1996 and 1997 on a large sheet of paper. Smiling family standing in front of their home.

Impact is the flagship publication of the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota. It is produced by ICI staff members, colleagues across the global disability field, people with disabilities, and their families.

Collaboration and varied perspectives.

Every issue of Impact is a collaboration. Issue editors who have expertise and passion on the topic come together (most typically an ICI employee and at least one external partner). I remember when I was first asked to serve as an editor for an issue of Impact, it was such an honor to me as an early career professional. I’d always seen the people who were issue editors working hard to get the issues put together, to find the right authors, to identify the various angles and perspective needed on any given topic, to edit the articles and full issue, and to meet deadlines. And when I finally got to experience that myself, I could say with certainty, it’s hard work to put an issue together. That’s been true from the very beginning. I feel so much gratitude toward the editors of all the past and future issues.

The commitment to get varied perspectives in every issue of Impact is critical. We know the state where you live is one of the biggest predictors of outcomes in life for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, so if we only think about what happens here in Minnesota, or any single state, we’d be stuck in a pretty small bubble. Life is different for each person based on a wide variety of factors and personal characteristics. Opportunities are very different across the United States and throughout the world. People with IDD likely think differently than family members or researchers or policy makers or providers about some issues. To really understand any topic or issue, we have to understand it from multiple perspectives and lenses.

From the very beginning, a critical aspect of Impact is that we've always included the perspectives of people with IDD in each issue. They have sometimes been issue editors, sometime authors, or sometimes shared their personal stories and lived experiences. No matter the topic, their voice has been key. It has always been, and always will be, on the top of our minds that we need to be working alongside people with IDD in all that we do. And that's true of Impact.

I know with certainty that our partners are the way in which we learn, and they teach us what the truth is and what's happening in their communities. From them, we are better able to understand the lived experiences of people with IDD, their families, their service providers, and others. They introduce us to new things and help us better understand those things that are most important to and for them. Until we know these things, our research will be irrelevant. It is when we learn from collaborators, and we try to create new knowledge and test it, that we can take our research to scale, understand issues of importance, and test possible solutions. Exploring issues and challenges with community partners through applied research is what will improve policy and practices; not sitting in an office and dreaming up new ideas. Impact is one way we find these collaborations.

Research, policy, and practice connections.

Impact has always been a means through which we link research, policy, and practice. If you go back to the very first issue, there’s usually a glimpse of research, a glimpse of some sort of policy – and best practice examples. In the very first issue of Impact on case management, there was an overview article on Rule 185, which was a “hot off the press” new policy. There were also articles on what that policy means in practice for people’s lives. That was a really rare combination in any one publication when Impact first came out and it has continued to be a component of each issue ever since. In some ways we can look across all of the issues of Impact and it gives us a record of what the important emerging issues were at that time, the issues we cared about and how we perceived our role as researchers. Impact has always been, and will continue to include, the translation of that research to people’s lives, with the intention of making a difference.

Impact has also always been willing to dig deeper around a story; to not only talk about what the research shows, but to let people with disabilities and their loved ones share how policies and practices affect them. Sometimes our research guides an issue of the magazine, and sometimes the course of developing the publication moves us toward much- needed new research. It is this iterative and interactive process that makes each issue of Impact so special. Additionally, we’re willing to take on issues that we know are critical and important but for which there is little research. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Instead, we should dig deeper. The personal stories included in every issue have a way of bringing things to life that people are experiencing authentically, and getting policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to think more deeply about them.

A man wearing a white sweater and blue jeans stands next to a small round table with a white tablecloth as he addresses an audience. A group of 19 people stand on a grass lawn in front of a brick commercial building. Some of the women are wearing saris, other men and women are dressed in western business attire. Woman sitting outside smiling. Four siblings dressed formally smiling.

Impact is the flagship publication of the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota. It is produced by ICI staff members, colleagues across the global disability field, people with disabilities, and their families.

I am an early adopter of technology and willing to dive in before I have any answers or have even thought about possible obstacles or challenges. When I became the ICI director, it was one of my top priorities that Impact keeps up with the times in terms of technology and accessibility and visual appearance. I don’t ever want us to look or become stale. We have moved from what was once a print-only format to primarily an electronic publication because most people now turn to their phones or other electronic devices to get information. Moving to a digital edition opened the door to what we can include in every issue. We now can offer links to more information, videos, and personal stories in ways we could never do with just print.

We have also improved accessibility. This has been a very important aspect of all of our work, including Impact. The more accessible we can make the web version, the better, and over time we have continued to grow. For me it has been so fun to watch what our information technology and communications teams can do when we unleash their creativity and allow them to let Impact grow and improve over time. Like with everything we do, if we don’t change and keep up, we fall behind.

Yes, Impact has definitely stood the test of time. I look forward to watching it evolve in the decades to come as it has always been one of those ICI gems.

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