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A knowing advocate for people with disabilities

Aug. 25, 2022

Caitlin Bartley

Caitlin Bartley’s first foray into disability advocacy came in the second grade when her fellow students repeatedly asked about her wheelchair. In response, Bartley persuaded her teacher to let her speak to the class about muscular dystrophy.

Years later, she was still at it. While earning undergraduate degrees, Bartley proposed that the school make two classroom buildings more accessible to individuals with wheelchairs. “It was really exciting to advocate for something like that and then to see it happen. And it’s not just something that benefited me. It will benefit students in wheelchairs for a long time,” she says.

Today, Bartley, MSW ’17, continues to advocate for others through her job with the Missouri Department of Mental Health’s Division of Developmental Disabilities. She coordinates the state’s participation in the National Core Indicators project, which surveys people with developmental disabilities on whether they are happy with the state services they receive and their quality of life. 

“The traditional disability service system focused on: ‘OK, this is how you should live your lives. If you are going to use our services, this is what’s going to happen.’ ” Bartley’s unit seeks to change that approach. “Yes, we are providing services, but everyone has the right to say how they want to live their lives, and we are there to support the person.”

Meanwhile, Bartley is pursuing a doctorate in social work at Mizzou and plans to research independence and choice in the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities. “A lot of state and national laws could be changed to better support people with disabilities. But those types of changes will not happen unless you have the data to back it up.”