Renovated Family Village Now On-line

By Patricia Mitchell, Waisman Center

Since it was established almost 10 years ago, more than 1.5 million visitors from 100 countries have found their way to the Waisman Center’s treasure trove of health- and disability-related information on the Internet the Family Village. Now the site has been updated, improved, and re-launched at

The renovated site is the outcome of efforts by an advisory committee, whose first task was to decide whether or not to even continue the site. We looked at whether its original role as a centralized clearinghouse of developmental disability-related information, web sites, and discussion forums was still needed, says Linda Rowley, the web manager at the Waisman Center who helped create the village. The committee’s response was a unanimous yes, she says.

If anything, the committee felt the need for the Family Village is even greater today. “When we started the Family Village, says Rowley, the Internet was an unknown quantity to most parents and providers. We helped Internet newcomers find information and connect with other families. Our goal was to help people track down the scarce information that existed, says Rowley. Ironically, ten years later, our goal is to help people sort through the billions of web sites to find those that are the most relevant and most useful.”

The committee, consisting of parents of children with disabilities, faculty and staff from the Waisman Center, and community representatives, did not think the overall design and organization of the Family Village needed much changing. The committee liked the simple and user-friendly design, which it felt was a key to quick and easy access, according to Rowley. What they did recommend was the revamping of some of the contents and the addition of new information, she says.

Three new buildings were added:

  • a Legal Center that better organizes information about disability-related legislation and civil rights for people with disabilities, including general information on legal topics such as estate planning and advocacy organizations;
  • a Disability Culture Icon, linking visitors to fascinating resources ranging from disability studies to the history of the disability rights movement, from people with disabilities in film and television to self-advocacy and self-determination; and
  • a Living with Disability Center that captures and organizes the diverse array of information aimed at making life easier, such as spiritual and religious resources, respite care, and service dogs.
    Other changes include the addition of links to current research and a place for visitors to provide feedback and suggestions.

Rowley and other members of the committee plan to meet periodically in the future in order to continue to keep the site current and relevant to the many types of visitors who log on, including family members, people with a disabilities, service providers, public policymakers, and anyone who is seeking information related to disability.

One of the committee members, Rita Hohlstein, underscores the importance of the Family Village to both parents and students. It’s important that the Waisman Center have a site that can be helpful to families of children with developmental disabilities, says Hohlstein, a clinical associate professor and coordinator for clinical services and interdisciplinary training for the Waisman Center. I also frequently show the site to pediatric residents, because regardless of the area they end up working in, they will have some patients with developmental disabilities and this site may be a great way for them to connect these children and families with the resources they’ll need.