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The World Gathers at YAI's 32nd Annual International Conference

May 12, 2011

Approximately 3,000 attendees from across the United States and from 40 countries gathered at the YAI Network's 32nd Annual International Conference, May 2-5 at the Hilton New York, to learn about effective strategies and best practices in working with individuals of all ages with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

Prince Zaid and Phil with award

The conference, "Bridges to Success in Developmental and Learning Disabilities,"  kicked off with a standing-room-only audience for an inspiring keynote session. His Royal Highness Prince Raad bin Zeid of Jordan accepted the YAI Network's first Global Leadership Award  on behalf of the Higher Council on the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, which spearheaded the opening of Jordan's first two group homes on April 20, 2011.   

"We can build bridges and hotels, but building new ideas . . . that’s something very special we are doing with thanks to our friends at YAI," Prince Raad said.

Alex, a student at the YAI Network's Manhattan STAR Academy, and Jeffrey, who participates in a YAI Day Services program which helped him get his first job and who will be moving into a YAI group home in the late summer, were both recognized with YAI's Profile in Excellence awards.

Incorporating common sense and a dose of humor, Dr. George S. Everly, Jr., provided insight on the importance of resiliency. His message resonated with attendees from across the globe.

"Your legacy will be etched not in stone, but in the lives of those you touch," he said.

"I really loved the keynote," said Carlos Anthony, Senior Supervisor of YAI's Project A.S.S.I.S.T. "It showed me how we're helping people all over the world. I'm proud to be part of YAI."

"This is the best conference," said Than Johnson, President of CRSI, an organization in Ohio.  "I’ve very much enjoyed years of association with YAI."

Throughout the week, attendees enjoyed presentations by more than 250 knowledgeable experts in the disabilities field from across the U.S. and around the world. Presenters covered a range of topics, including advocacy and self-determination, autism spectrum disorders, day and residential services, early intervention, education, legal and financial planning, sexuality and socialization, special education, strengthening families, workforce and technology issues.

Attendees received in-depth information through two full-day conferences, one on health care for people with IDD sponsored by Premier HealthCare, and one by Dr. Carol Westby on literacy in play and learning with children with disabilities and delays.

"This is my first time in the United States and when I saw Carol’s name on this program, I was so excited!" said Sadna Balton, a speech & language therapist at a large academic hospital in South Africa. "I've been using so much of her research in my own work and I was eager to hear from her again. I'm getting to meet so many people who I've read about and whose research I've used - to see them come to life and present has been so wonderful!"

Many of the people who attended said that the conference provided them with valuable hands-on training that will help to enhance their work.

Gena Norquist of the Fairfax County Public Schools came to the conference for the first time because she is interested in taking her special education career overseas. "The presentations have been very thought provoking for me. I picked all the international sessions," she said, referring to presentations by professionals from India, Russia, Spain and England.

"It's very obvious that YAI goes above and beyond to educate their workers, and it's great to see people from many other organizations here," said Mia Cotroneo, Assistant Applied Behavioral Service Specialist, at YAI's Foothill Residence.

Building on the YAI Network's successful partnership in Jordan, "Bridges to Succcess" also provided an appropriate setting for  Inclusive Society Pakistan Chapter (ISPC) to sign an agreement with the YAI Network to provide technical, health care and rehabilitative assistance to the country, where 10-15 percent of the population has disabilities.

"The people of Pakistan haven’t seen success stories," said Sadia Mumtaz, Founder and Executive Director of ISPC. "Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can't do anything. Together with YAI, we will initiate that change."

The YAI Network extends a warm thank you to the 2011 presenters and exhibitors who contributed to the success of the conference.

Check out photo highlights from the week!