Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York
 



the advocate

A decade-long collaboration between a GSAS graduate student and a psychology professor helped ensure individuals with developmental disabilities enjoy equal rights.

Christine Cea

Christine Cea, Ph.D., GSAS ’91 and ’99, brought with her to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ graduate degree program in developmental psychology years of experience advocating on behalf of persons with developmental disabilities.

“Most of my knowledge was hands-on,” explained Cea, whose daughter was born with a severe intellectual disability. “I came with a working understanding of the field and the system, but I wanted to learn more.

“I chose Fordham specifically because its developmental psychology program included disability.”

Her experiences with the health care and research abuses at the Willowbrook State School, a public institution for children with intellectual disabilities that was shut down in 1987, galvanized her into action.

After earning her bachelor’s degree cum laude in psychology at the City University of New York, Staten Island, Cea began her advocacy work for the mentally disabled in earnest at Fordham, under the mentorship of Celia Fisher, Ph.D., the Marie Doty Professor of Psychology and director of the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham.

Cea’s long history of advocacy for persons with develop mental disabilities revealed a dearth of well-researched information on ways to evaluate and assess the ability of adults with intellectual disabilities to consent to medical, dental and psychiatric treatment.

“There really wasn’t much out there,” said Cea, now a member of the New York State Board of Regents and a researcher at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities, on Staten Island. “Doctor Fisher and I started to look at informed consent for people with intellectual disabilities.”

For her dissertation, Cea—with Fisher’s guidance—developed an innovative set of case scenarios that adults with intellectual disabilities responded to in a manner that allowed assessment of their understanding of common medical, dental and psychiatric treatments.

“My work influenced Doctor Fisher,” Cea said, “and her work influenced mine.”

Cea’s work ended up changing the way the health industry approaches informed consent for the intellectually disabled, according to Fisher.

“She provided many people in the health industry with the tools to make better decisions about informed consent,” Fisher said. “Her research really became institutional knowledge, in a way.”

Since earning her master’s and doctoral degrees at Fordham, Cea has gained national recognition for her work developing techniques to enhance the comprehension of persons with intellectual disabilities to enable participation in the informed consent process for health treatments and to understand their rights as research participants.

She recently produced a health promotion program for adults with intellectual disabilities to lead healthier lifestyles. It is currently being used throughout Staten Island.

“Her experiences at Fordham and the ethics center combined the notion of doing good and doing good science,” Fisher said. “She left with the empirical knowledge that gave her the confidence and the recognition to advance her professional work even more.” 

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