Recent News


First Tennessee Foundation Awards STEP, Inc. Grant

Pictured left to right:  Jennifer Keller, First Tennessee VP Community Banker, Karen Harrison, STEP, Inc. Executive Director, and Donna Jennings, STEP, Inc. Business Manager

Helping youth with disabilities prepare for life after high school and achieve their goals is what STEP, Inc. does through our transition services.

Helping non-profits in Tennessee accomplish their mission is what the First Tennessee Foundation does through their community grants.

"We are so grateful to the First Tennessee Foundation for their generous donation of $3,000. STEP, Inc. will use these funds to purchase iPad's and iTunes cards to give away at our transition events across the state," said Karen Harrison, Executive Director at STEP, Inc.

The check was presented to STEP today by Jennifer Keller, VP Community Banker and was received by Karen Harrison, STEP Executive Director, and Donna Jennings, STEP Business Manager.

Michelle Huffman with the First Tennessee Foundation in a letter to STEP wrote: "The First Tennessee Foundation is honored to be part of the good work and success of STEP, Inc. and pleased to provide this grant of $3,000."

STEP's next Transition Academy will be held September 27th and 28th in Nashville at Lipscomb University where one lucky teen will win an iPad!    Click here to register today.

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Getting Started: Help Your Child With a Learning Disability Be More Independent With Assistive Technology (AT)

This guide can help your child with a learning disability take important steps towards independence for high school, postsecondary education, and employment. Topics covered include: setting priorities and goals, working with your child’s IEP team, and exploring assistive technology.

CLICK HERE to download the PDF resource guide.

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How Technology Can Help Your Child With a Learning Disability Be More Independent

This guide provides parents a brief overview of the ways assistive technology can help grow their child’s independence. Topics covered include: examples of assistive technology for managing schoolwork, reading and writing, and focus and time management, as well as helpful strategies for encouraging their child’s independence.

CLICK HERE to download the PDF resource

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Policy Drafts, State Plans and Public Hearings

Four Vocational Rehabilitation draft policies are currently available for public review and comment, listed below:

Comments on these policies can be sent to Joel Blackford by email at, by phone at (615) 313-4898, or by mail to 400 Deaderick Street, 12th Floor, Nashville, TN 37243. Comments will be received until close of business July 13, 2017. Public hearings on the draft policies are also being held across the state, as listed below:


June 27, 2017

Memphis Center for Independent Living

1633 Madison Avenue

Memphis, TN  38104

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm


June 28, 2017

Lowell Thomas State Office Building

225 Martin Luther King Blvd

Jackson, TN  30301

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm


June 29, 2017

Department of Human Services

1000 2nd Avenue North

Nashville, TN  37243

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Johnson City

July 11, 2017

Department of Human Services

103 East Walnut Street

Johnson City, TN  37601

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm


July 12, 2017

Langley Building

520 West Summit Hill Drive

Knoxville, TN  37902

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm


July 13, 2017

Eastgate Center

5600 Brainerd Road

Chattanooga, TN 37411

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm

FY 2015 State Plan for the Vocational Rehabilitation Program - WORD  PDF

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School Suspensions Take a Toll on Kids With IEPs and 504 Plans

Kids with IEPs are more than twice as likely to be suspended. And a lot of those suspensions involve kids with learning and attention issues. How come? Explore the answers in The State of LD, recently released by NCLD. Discover five ways to use information from the report. Plus read one family's story about unique IEP goals for a child with both special education needs and giftedness.

Click here to read more.

Click here to review Understanding the 1 in 5:  Snapshot of Learning and Attention Issues in the U.S.

Click here to review Understanding the 1 in 5: Executive Summary

Click here to review Understanding the 1 in 5: Tennessee State Snapshot

Upcoming Expert Chat: Advocacy & The State of LD: What Parents Need to Know

Thurs Jun 8 at 12:00pm ET 

Lindsay Jones

Vice President and Chief Policy & Advocacy Officer, National Center for Learning Disabilities

The National Center for Learning Disabilities released its latest report, The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5.  Join Lindsay Jones, chief policy and advocacy officer for NCLD, to learn how the report can help parents understand key policy issues at the state and federal levels and give you tools to advocate for your child.

Simply go to at the time of the chat.

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First Lady's Statewide Summer Reading Competition

I'm excited to announce a Statewide Summer Reading Competition to encourage all Tennessee children to read more and visit our state libraries over the summer! 

Rising kindergarten through rising 4th grade students can qualify as one of Tennessee's Top 100 Readers (and have a chance to attend a Kids State Dinner at the Tennessee Residence!) by tracking the number of minutes they read over the summer and turning their information into their local library. 

Visit your local library or to get started. Keep up the great reading!

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STUDENT VOICE: They told me I’d never go to college but I just finished my freshman year — what about all the other students with autism?

Article from The Hechinger ReportI

t's time to prepare all learners for the future.

A few years ago, I was on track to receive a modified high school diploma. I was spoken to using basic English with minimal words and taught in separate facilities. 

I was unable to express most of my thoughts verbally; so many professionals such as teachers and doctors were unable to see how intelligent I was. 

Then at 18 years old, I had a communication breakthrough when I began to use an iPad. I was finally able to express my personal thoughts and share what I know, graduating from high school at age 21. 

After years of being told I would never go to college, I just finished up my freshman year. But what about all of the other students with autism?  

Click here to read more

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TN Special Education Director Update

The latest issue of the Special Education Director Update is out from the Tennessee Department of Education.

In this issue:

  • Supplemental IDEA Funds Available
  • Disability Standards Policy Change
  • Dyslexia Resource Guide
  • ePlan User Communication
  • SAMHSA Family Educational Materials
  • Change to Special Educator Credential Requirement Under ESSA
  • Save the Dates for the 2017-18 WBL Professional Learning Communities (PLCs)
  • Tennessee STEM School Designation
  • Professional Development for Special Populations
  • Inclusive Higher Education Conference for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 
  • 2017-2018 TRIAD Professional Development and Training Opportunities
  • Gifted Educator Newsletter
  • Special Education Supervisors Conference

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2017 Wayne Parker Advocate of the Year Award Announced

STEP is thrilled to honor Christi Rice with the 2017 Wayne Parker Advocate of the Year Award.

Christi Rice volunteers at Menchie’s, works a full-time job, is a wife to Jamie and a mom to four young people, two on the autism spectrum. Christi took a registered nurse position working on the weekends in order to dedicate her time and energy to starting up the Menchie’s employment project. Everything she does at Menchie’s is voluntary because, in her words, “I want to see every penny we earn go back to the store or to other ventures to promote employment of folks with disabilities in our community.”

Advocating for a job for her son, Wesley, is how she began helping other young people with disabilities find employment opportunities through training at Menchie’s. She said, “I saw what a difference a job made in my son's life and wanted that for all his friends. I love this community and have an overwhelming sense of urgency to make a way for folks like Wesley.”

Christi honed her advocacy skills striving for educational success for her two sons with IEPs in the school system. Her efforts at Menchie’s forced her to change her focus and direction. She said, “I began looking toward the future realizing there is so much more out there for our friends than high school. I realized that my focus needed to expand past today and work towards their future - towards a time when I am not here to advocate for them to have every opportunity anyone else may be given.”

Christi believes the Menchie’s initiative has given folks, and the community at large, hope. She said, “It shows us every day that we can never put limits on our friends with disabilities. We are proving every day that a business can thrive if only they give folks a chance.

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The Inaugural STEP Youth Advocate of the Year Award Winner Announced

STEP is delighted to announce a new opportunity, starting this year, to honor a young person who has embodied the positive character traits of being a strong self-advocate by demonstrating leadership and accepting responsibility in speaking up for themselves and others. 

The Wesley Rice STEP Youth Advocate of the Year Award is named after a young man – Wesley Rice, of course – who wanted a job and was willing to persevere until he landed one; and, in so doing, raised up an entire community. With that simplest of desires, Wesley set in motion the creation of an employment initiative that has enabled numerous youth with disabilities to train for work in an inclusive community setting, and then go on to become employed, skilled, responsible, tax-paying individuals. We are all inspired by Wesley and his straight-forward advice, “If you want something, like a job, just ask.” 

Wesley asked for a job, and countless others have benefited, and will continue to benefit. STEP is thrilled and proud to present this premiere award, to name it after Wesley and his accomplishments, and to see what other youth will walk in Wesley’s shoes in years to come. 

It looks like Wesley is pretty happy about it, too! We'll be sharing more throughout the week about Wesley, his awesome mom, Christi Rice, and their work toward inclusive employment in Knoxville.

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