Kansas University's Beach Center on Disability received a major research award for its work to improve life for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
The National Down Syndrome Congress presented the Beach Center with the Theodore D. Tjossem Research Award at its annual convention last weekend in Kansas City, Mo.
"It was quite unexpected, and we are very delighted to receive the award," said Rud Turnbull, who co-founded the center with his wife, Ann, in 1988. The center provides research, training and advocacy.
David Tolleson, executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress, said the annual award recognizes research that contributes to the understanding of Down syndrome or improves the lives of people with Down syndrome or their families.
"The award is considered a high honor because it's an acknowledgment by parents and persons with Down syndrome that the award winner's research has actually made a positive impact on lives rather than being a dry academic piece that sits on a shelf and doesn't make any real contribution to improving lives," he said.
Turnbull said the award is special because the Beach Center is being recognized by the nation's oldest Down syndrome parent organization.
"In receiving this award, we believe that the National Down Syndrome Congress said that our research is relevant to their lives, and that is very important to us," he said.
Turnbull worked with the award's namesake on several national projects and credits the late Tjossem for some of his success.
"Ted was the first person to involve parents as participants in the deliberations of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation. And he asked me to head up a parents' group at a meeting in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 1974," he said.
"I think that was the first time the parents had ever done any significant work as a group with the president's committee and it was my first, if you will, national debut," Turnbull said. "So Ted got me started on my national career. I am very grateful to him for that."
Tjossem, who sponsored groundbreaking research on Down syndrome, was a senior staff member at the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
"The significant thing is that he recognized what parents could contribute and he made it possible for them to have a place in the deliberations around intellectual disability," Turnbull said.
It isn't the first time KU received the award. Steven Warren, director of the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies, received it in 1999.
The Beach Center is affiliated with the Life Span Institute and the department of special education in the KU School of Education. The center was named in honor of Ross and Marianna Beach in recognition of their efforts to help those with disabilities and their families.
The Turnbulls were named the first Marianna and Ross Beach distinguished professors at KU. They are international leading researchers on issues affecting individuals with disabilities and their families and are the directors of the Beach Center.
Tolleson couldn't estimate how many people have benefited from the Beach Center's work.
"I can't even imagine how to figure that," he said. "Their work impacts many lives over many years."