A new source of grant funding will allow Niagara University to develop a new program aimed at providing first responders with the tools they need to assist individuals with disabilities during emergency situations.
The university announced it has been awarded a $193,270 grant from the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC) to develop and conduct a statewide disability awareness and sensitivity curriculum and the corresponding training tools for first responders.
NU officials said the faculty and students will work to provide a syllabus that educates fire, police and EMT first responders on the full spectrum of disabilities, including specific information on the functional aspects of development disabilities. The expected outcome of the program is that first responders will have the skills and tools necessary to communicate and assist individuals with disabilities when an emergency arises.
“We are very pleased to be selected as the institution that will work toward developing a unified, statewide protocol for first responders to adhere to during emergencies and encounters involving people with disabilities,” said Dr. Timothy Ireland, chair of the criminology and justice department at Niagara University. “It is very important that we expand the current training exercises for first responders to make sure that they know how to assist individuals across the disability spectrum.”
The grant was awarded to Niagara as the first of a three-year, renewable program that possesses a maximum funding potential of almost $650,000. The university will be reviewed on an annual basis and the DDPC will extend the contract if it deems that Niagara is making satisfactory progress in establishing the program.
The development of the university’s curriculum will be guided by an advisory council consisting of academics, state and regional first responders, developmental disabilities service providers, individuals with disabilities, advocacy groups and other trainers. Once finalized, Niagara will work with existing state and regional organizations to deliver the training via train-the-trainer and direct training events, as well as by creating a web-based teaching program.
The goal is for the curriculum to be incorporated into new first responder training throughout the state and to institutionalize it so that all new first responders are familiar with First Responder Disability Awareness Training. For veteran first responders, Niagara will work with other trainers to provide certification through continuing education programs.
NU has hired David Whalen, founder and statewide coordinator of Disability Awareness Training, to oversee this project. Whalen has been involved in the field of disabilities since 1986 and has been training first responders for the past five years. He currently sits on the New York State Independent Living Council, chairs the Town of Amherst Committee on Disabilities, is president of the Williamsville Special Education Parent Teacher Student Association, and is co-founder/principal investigator of Access Buffalo.
Niagara University will establish a new office on its campus to host training, technical assistance, and sustainability efforts in support of the program.