Social Work Warrior College Hacks: Why study developmental disabilities?

Author: Elizabeth Janks, LMSW, Associate Director of Training and Community Support at the WSU Developmental Disabilities Institute and WSU Social Work Part-time Faculty

Elizabeth Janks
Elizabeth Janks and her son, Rob, at their monthly DIA musical performance and dinner date

As a second-year graduate student at the Wayne State University School of Social Work, I was placed at the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Institute (MI-DDI). Coincidentally, I also had a young child, that had developmental disabilities. This was a life changing, field placement. As an intern I sat in on grant meetings and worked with professionals and academics that were leaders in the disability field. I got to learn about best practices, school inclusion, self-determination, and many things that would become so important to my son living a high-quality life. Professionally, I have worked at MI-DDI 30 years now and have the opportunity to develop projects that promote full inclusion for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD). 

The facts

There are 7.2 million adults and children with intellectual, developmental, and neurodevelopmental disabilities living in the United States. People with disabilities want equity, and this includes meaningful employment, affordable housing, access to healthcare, education, and direct support professionals to work with them. As a future Social Worker, you will very likely work with individuals, who will need you to help them irradicate the barriers they and their families confront in their communities. Learn how you can assist them in their quest to have access to a higher quality of life.  

Did you know...

  • 75% of people living with I/DD are unemployed in Michigan, yet 53% indicate they want a job
  • 41% of Detroiters living with I/DD are living at or below the federal poverty level and 22% identify has having a disability 
  • 66% or 225,925 of those with I/DD live at home with caregivers over the age of 60

Learn how to advocate for change in SW 6700

In your career you will work with people with I/DD, and you can help them advocate for change, by using evidence-based practices you will learn in SW 6700 Disabilities in Urban Society. You can help them attain their dreams and goals.  This course will discuss important topics including:

  • History of the Developmental Disabilities Movement
  • Correlation between poverty, urban settings and disability prevalence
  • Innovative and Creative Person-Centered Planning
  • Health Disparities
  • Intersectionality of race, and disability rights and how it impacts equity for people with disabilities
  • Direct Support Professional workforce crisis

Experience one of the few courses offered at Wayne State University focusing on improving life outcomes for people with developmental disabilities! SW 6700 is offered during the upcoming fall 2022 semester in a hybrid format from 5:00 - 7:30 pm Thursdays with in-person classes taking place at Old Main, Room 1145 on 9/1, 10/6, 11/3, 12/8. The remaining course classes will be held in a virtual synchronous format. This class is open to all Wayne State graduate students. Register here (CRN: 41392)

Consider taking SW 6700 as an elective. If you want to continue your studies, you can take SW 6740 Seminar in Disability Studies: Directed Study and SW 6750 Practicum in Disabilities: Research Topics and receive your Graduate Certificate in Disabilities.

The Graduate Certificate Program in Disabilities helped to shape the way I view the intersection of disability and other marginalized populations. By taking the courses and completing the hands-on projects, I feel that I gained a perspective that will continue to positively impact the way I operate as a social worker. The self-paced portions challenged me to improve my skills as a self-starter, and I was allowed to explore the topics that were important to me personally and the disability community as a whole. - Amelia Allen, LMSW, WSU Graduate Certificate Program in Disabilities Alum and MI-DDI Research Assistant


I am fortunate because I enjoy the challenges of my work in the field of disabilities. I get to meet internationally known advocates for people with disabilities. I get inspired by their stories and my colleagues, some of whom are caregivers and family members, too. Those interactions have helped me have big dreams for my son Rob who is now 35 and living in his own home. Students should consider taking the Disability Certificate courses, because they get the opportunity to meet leaders in the field, study new research and consider how they as future social work practitioners can help reduce barriers for people with I/DD.

It is important to see the "Possibilities" for them living full lives as valued community members! People with I/DD have so much to offer, social workers need the knowledge to help them in their fight for equal access. Take a look at MI-DDI's award winning video series..."Possibilities" to see how individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families can lead the lives that they wish to lead, without barriers and in the direction they truly intend to go.

If you are interested in taking SW 6700 this fall or a career in field of disabilities, I am always happy to answer questions and chat about our programs and classes. I can be reached at or 313-577-2654.

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