Leaders in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities gathered virtually this month to pay tribute to Vicki Gaylord of the University of Minnesota Institute on Community Integration (ICI). Gaylord retired this summer after more than three decades’ service and advocacy for people with disabilities. A virtual farewell event was held to honor Gaylord. A farewell book was created.
Gaylord’s 32-year career in ICI’s publications department—including serving as managing editor of Impact magazine for nearly its entire history—intertwines seamlessly with the life of the organization itself.
As Impact managing editor, Gaylord worked with more than 1,000 authors in the United States and abroad to produce more than 70 issues of the magazine. She also edited and oversaw the publication of countless research briefs, training manuals, curricula and reports, in addition to hiring and managing staff.
At her farewell, Gaylord shared feedback she received over the years from Impact readers, including an email from a mother requesting copies of a recent issue that she wanted to use to persuade her school district’s board of education to provide the services her son is entitled to by law. Another was from a police chief calling to say that the issue on the justice system and people with disabilities was exactly the kind of information his officers were hungry for, and that he’d like to subscribe to receive future issues. Another letter, from the U.S. Air Force, sought to put the issue on violence against women with disabilities on all its air bases around the world.
“I’ve also had the privilege of partnering with people with disabilities to tell their life stories and share their experiences in their own words through putting their stories in Impact,” Gaylord said. “I have been honored that they trusted me and ICI to tell those stories.”
Many people paid tribute to Gaylord. “Just before Vicki was hired [in 1988], we achieved status as a federally funded University Affiliated Program in Developmental Disabilities through the University of Iowa,” said Robert Bruininks, the former University of Minnesota president. Earlier in Bruininks’ academic career he helped found ICI, served as its first director, and hired Gaylord. “Most other centers were in medical schools, with a big-institution bias. We were focused on a deep set of values for providing opportunities for inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).”
Disseminating the latest interdisciplinary research and best practices was essential to ICI’s establishing itself as a one of the University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Gaylord’s role in shaping many of ICI’s publications was critical, Bruininks said during the virtual farewell event. “She worked with all of us to create a vision to be a leadership center for sharing research for the improvement of practices and the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families.”
Former ICI leaders David Johnson and Charlie Lakin also gave tributes. “It wasn’t just the themes that Impact explored, it was the model Vicki used to involve people so that each issue reflected not only the best thinking at ICI but nationally,” said Lakin.
Colleen Wieck, executive director of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, was among many other well-wishers from ICI partner organizations. “Of all the topics that could have been highlighted [in Impact], you were somehow able to determine and select those that were the most timely, and most relevant, that deserved attention and would be welcomed by many diverse audiences,” Wieck said.
Former ICI researcher Stuart Schleien, now a department chair at University of North Carolina Greensboro, called Gaylord’s work foundational to ICI’s knowledge translation efforts.
“With all of the work we accomplished to develop evidence-based practices and improve the quality of life for people with IDD, little of it would have been possible without having ways to creatively and effectively share this knowledge with the field,” he said. “Always behind the scenes, she was the creative voice that was responsible for influencing policies and practices to facilitate the social inclusion of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”