Winter 2020 Newsletter | DDHS Celebrates 20 Years

A Message from Director Ashley Woodman

Ashley Woodman
Ashley Woodman

It has been my pleasure to serve as the director of the Developmental Disabilities and Human Services (DDHS) specialization program for the past five years. When I learned about this program, I was immediately drawn to it. Very few undergraduate courses even touch on the topic of disability, yet this program offers students the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of disability, how it affects everyday life for the individual and the family, as well as how to best support people with disabilities. It is the type of program I wish I had the opportunity to participate in during my tenure as an undergraduate–or even graduate–student.

Beyond the coursework, the practical experiences obtained in this program set it apart. Students are placed in community settings working with real people, professionals, and organizations. They are challenged to translate what they learned in the classroom to real-world settings. Perhaps equally as important, they bring what they learned in their internships into the classroom to enrich discussion and debate. Given the unique combination of coursework and internship experience, our students are competitive for careers in the disability field.

DDHS offers students a sense of community on an otherwise large campus. Admission is competitive, so only students who are passionate about the topic and dedicated to pursuing a career in this field are admitted. Students develop connections with their like-minded peers that often last beyond their time at UMass.

report cover, student holds hands with children in Africa
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Over the past decade, DDHS has grown both in terms of the number of students and the richness of the student experience. New courses have been added to the curriculum and new organizations have joined the program as internship partners. DDHS now offers volunteer, service learning,and study abroad opportunities. There are additional improvements on the horizon for DDHS. I will be petitioning the faculty senate to advance DDHS from the status of letter of specialization to certificate, which will improve its standing on campus as well as provide students with a more interdisciplinary selection of disability-related coursework. As part of the revised psychology curriculum (Fall 2021), a new course on Disabilities and Development will be offered. In the future, I also plan to develop a new course focused on careers in disability as well as an honors thesis course focused on research in disability.

This report provides an opportunity to reflect on the history and successes of the DDHS program. I am grateful to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Natural Sciences, and the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences for their continued support of this program. As you will hear throughout this report, alumni find DDHS to be a highlight of their time at UMass and of continued relevance to their professional careers. As the prevalence of disability is on the rise, the importance of this program is only increasing.

Ashley Woodman, PhD
DDHS Program Director (2014-Present)