Podcast for new master’s program centers disabilities

The Rehabilitation Counseling and Disability Sciences program and its associated podcast were created in an effort to increase conversation around people with disabilities, and to meet the growing demand for rehabilitation counselors. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

A new podcast will highlight the experiences of disabled individuals as part of the instructional materials for the Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling and Disability Sciences, which is set to premier in fall.

Interviews for the podcast are hosted in the Innovative Education building by Jillian Heilman, a professor in the Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program. The series will feature a line-up of individuals with varying disabilities, including a person living with diabetes and a paralympic athlete with a spinal cord injury.

“They have a wealth of information to share with us as professionals,” Heilman said. “If their stories are not heard, we’re just reading it in a textbook … They’re doing self-advocacy, they’re sharing their story to benefit others and that’s one of the whole goals of our program.”

After raising three disabled daughters, Heilman has established connections with the community, allowing her to reach out to potential guests for the podcast.

Heilman is also the founder of the Halle Grace Foundation, named after Heilman’s daughter who passed away in 2015. The Foundation seeks to support those with pediatric disabilities. The podcast’s episodes will be available through the Halle Grace Foundation, as well as on Spotify, for public access.

As part of the master’s program, students in Heilman’s Medical Aspects of Disability course will study the interviews to find common themes among the disabled individuals. 

A total of seven episodes have been recorded and are currently in the editing process. Heilman said the episodes will be released on a monthly basis, starting with the beginning of the program. The longevity of the series is yet to be determined. It will depend on the podcast’s funding, which is supplied by tuition from students in the program.

The program will be held in an entirely online format to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to attend when they otherwise would not have been able to, according to Program Director Chih-Chin Chou. Upon graduation, students will be eligible to become certified rehabilitation counselors, enabling them to work anywhere in the U.S.

Florida is experiencing a shortage of certified professionals who are able to provide adequate care for a population with an above-average rate of disabilities, according to the program site

Heilman said this increased concentration of disabled people is likely associated with Florida’s aging population as a retirement destination. It may also be attributed to the decreasing stigma surrounding disability, allowing more to come forward with their stories surrounding disability, or to identify as disabled. 

The program is intended to fill the 100 vacant rehabilitation counseling positions throughout the state and ease the burden on the disabled population. Chou and Heilman said they hope the podcast and program will change the narrative surrounding disability. 

“We have a stronger focus on disability sciences, as well as disability advocacy and social justice,” Heilman said. “We want to create a community that’s more inclusive for people with disabilities.”