Founder & CEO
…dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny…”Paulo Freire
Mary Kate has a lifetime of experience in and around the disability community, beginning as the daughter of an American Sign Language interpreter and continuing into adulthood as a fierce advocate for inclusion and understanding. When her first child, Josiah, was born with cerebral palsy, Mary Kate became a student of disabled life and disability policy.
Her experiences navigating a promising but flawed system among a well-intentioned but underinformed public inspired her to pursue a Master of Education degree at Vanderbilt University in the Learning, Diversity, and Urban Studies program. While there, she studied under and published with renowned scholar, researcher, Paralympian, and current Director of the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, Dr. Anjali Forber- Pratt. Mary Kate is currently engaged in research led by Dr. Kara Ayers of the University of Cincinnati Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCCEDD). Mary Kate’s research interests lie in disability as diversity, disability identity, and correcting misperceptions of disability.
Many people have encouraged Mary Kate to become a special education professional. There is a big difference between her goals and those of talented special educators. Special educators work on behalf of students with disabilities and their families to succeed in a system that was never designed to serve them. Mary Kate’s work breaks down barriers for individuals with disabilities by calling on non-disabled people to interrogate their own preconceptions about what it means to be a person of value. Too often disabled individuals are made to be and feel invisible, whether by the absence of video captions and handrails, or the quickly averted gaze or condescending tones of an acquaintance. Paulo Friere rightly said, “dehumanization, although a concrete historical fact, is not a given destiny.” People with disabilities have experienced dehumanization throughout history and Mary Kate is committed to creating a future where disability is accepted as a facet of human diversity.
Mary Kate Brown is the founder and CEO of The Center for Disability Integration, Director of Operations for Family Voices of Tennessee, and an adjunct professor in the Communication Studies Department at Middle Tennessee State University. She is a Tennessee Achieves Mentor and volunteers as an equity trainer with The Center for Culturally Proficient Educational Practice. She lives just south of Nashville, TN with her husband of twenty years, their four unique children, two guinea pigs, a lap dog named Suzy Q, a service dog named Hank P. Corndog, IV, and six chickens.
Brown, M.K. & Chevrette, R. (2021) Teaching co-cultural theory, dis/ability, and normativity using The Greatest Showman, Communication Teacher, DOI: 10.1080/17404622.2021.1945640
Forber-Pratt, A.J., Minotti, B., Burdick, C.E., Brown, M.K., Hanebutt, R.A. (2021). Exploring disability identity with adolescents. Rehabilitation Psychology.
Forber-Pratt, A.J., Hemmeter, M.L., Hanebutt, R.A., Brown, M.K., & Burdick, C.E. (under review). Perspectives of disability and inclusion in pre-kindergarten children. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.
October 2022: “Disability is Diversity.” Presenter for Sign Language Studios, LLC. Murfreesboro, TN.
October 2022: “Serving Whole Communities: Examining the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion when working with Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs and their families.” Session leader for the 2022 Family Leadership Conference, “Moving Forward: Embracing Change and Transformation.” Washington, D.C.
July 2022: “Interprofessional Collaboration and Neurodiversity: Working together to care for children with neurodevelopmental and other disabilities”. Keynote Panelist for the Tennessee Interprofessional Practice and Education Consortium’s Annual Conference. Nashville, TN.
June 2022: “Self-Advocacy: Because You Matter and They Can Adjust.” Keynote speaker for the Tennessee Department of Health’s Annual Youth Transition Summit: Advocating for U(s): Me for Me. Nashville, TN.
October 2021: “Disability as Diversity in the Classroom.” Session leader for the Tennessee Disability Megaconference. Nashville, TN.
September 2021: “Access as an act of radical LOVE.” Guest lecturer at Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN.