Vicki Gaylord.

Leaders in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities gathered virtually this month to pay tribute to the Institute on Community Integration’s Vicki Gaylord, who retired in June. They reflected on more than three decades of advocacy for people with disabilities.

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.

“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 who earlier in his career 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 IDD.”

Disseminating the latest interdisciplinary research and best practices was essential to ICI’s establishing itself as a UAP (later renamed University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities) and Gaylord’s role in shaping many of ICI’s publications was critical, Bruininks said during the virtual farewell event, attended by many ICI colleagues and partners. 

“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,” he said. Former ICI Director David Johnson and Charlie Lakin, founding director of ICI’s Research and Training Center on Community Living and former director of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, also gave tributes.

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 in a farewell book created by Gaylord’s communications department colleagues. 

Former ICI researcher Stuart Schleien, now a department chair at University of North Carolina Greensboro, called her 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 wrote. “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.”

As Impact’s 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.

“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,” Lakin said.

ICI Director Amy Hewitt also stressed Gaylord’s contributions in building long-lasting relationships with Impact’s authors and guest editors from across the field. 

“You built and maintained so many relationships with authors that have lasted to this day, and they are some of our strongest partners,” Hewitt said. “Impact’s success is your legacy and it will live beyond your retirement.”

At the online event, 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, 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,” she said. “I have been honored that they trusted me and ICI to tell those stories.” 

Gaylord closed her remarks by naming and thanking many of those individuals. Among them: Carol Ely, Hunter Sargent, Tia Nelis, Jeff Ridgeway, Roqayah Ajaj, Nick Wilkie, Nancy Ward, Santa Perez, Cliff Poetz, Heidi Myhre, Chester Finn, Irving Martin, and members of the Green Mountain Self-Advocates of Vermont. 

“It’s been a privilege to know so many people with a deep commitment to making the world better,” Gaylord said. “Thank you for a memorable 32 years in Pattee Hall.”