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Laurie Powers
Laurie Powers

Self Determined Success

Helping people with disabilities chart their lives

As director of the Regional Research Institute for Human Services (RRI), social work professor Laurie Powers looks for ways to enhance the self-determination of people with diverse disabilities by giving them a voice in directing their lives and services.

People with disabilities are sometimes thought "not to be capable of taking charge of their lives," Powers says, "but most people with disabilities can direct their lives and the services they receive. We look for ways to support that, rather than just taking care of people."

For example, Powers and her colleagues have three experimental studies underway to help young people in both special education and foster care achieve goals that increase their high school success, establish careers, live independently, and go to college.

One of these projects, Better Futures, is part of Pathways to Positive Futures, a major research and training center at the RRI that seeks to improve the lives of young adults with serious mental health challenges by incorporating the youths' perspectives into every project.

In addition to her work with youth, Powers conducts self-determination research on ways to support women and men with disabilities to increase their safety from abuse.

And she has had several projects focusing on a new service approach called Brokerage that allows people with disabilities to flexibly use funds to pay for services they identify as important rather than participating in programs that provide predetermined services mostly directed by professionals. This work led to establishment of a statewide brokerage system for adults with developmental disabilities which the RRI is currently evaluating.

RRI is the oldest, and largest, social and behavioral research institute at PSU, with 40 projects ongoing at any time and an annual budget of about $7 million.

"We're heavily engaged in the community," Powers says, "and one of our major goals is to provide opportunities for consumers of social services to have a voice in our research and their services." This means giving control over decision-making as well as accountability to the person most affected by those services, she says.

RRI researchers work with many partners, including non-profit organizations such as Outside In, Native American Rehabilitation Association, the Oregon Department of Human Services, and Portland Public Schools.

"Our researchers respond to what communities and constituents need," Powers says. "We love to share knowledge and learn from our partners, which leaves everyone with a higher level of competence and expertise."

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Learn more about Laurie Powers, Professor at the School of Social Work.