Getting to know the MHDD leaders: Matthew Wappett, PhD
The MHDD National Training Center provides resources and education about mental health for people with disabilities. One good way to understand the MHDD better is by learning more about its leaders.
Matthew Wappett is the executive director for the Center for Persons with Disabilities (CPD) at Utah State University. When Matt saw the grant competition for this project, he saw an opportunity to support the mental health of people with disabilities. He felt that the CPD had resources to build on.
Matt has a Masters degree in English and a Ph.D. in Special Education with a focus on disability policy. He received his education from the University of Utah. His research there focused on creating mental health supports and inclusive classrooms. Outside of work, Matt enjoys playing ice hockey and white-water rafting with his family.
It is one of Matt’s passions to address mental health issues among marginalized populations. He has family and friends with disabilities who have struggled to find mental health support in rural communities. Matt feels that people with disabilities who experience mental health issues are often overlooked, misunderstood, and lack resources. He views the MHDD center as “an opportunity to shape the conversation and increase the capacity of our service systems to meet the needs of this population.”
Beyond Matt’s qualifications, he has personal ties that contribute to his determination on the project. He has had various experiences that opened his eyes to privileges he had that others were denied.
He was in the first generation of students to attend public schools following the de-institutionalization movement. He remembers how students with disabilities rode a different bus. They were separated from other students throughout the day. They did not even pass each other in the halls. This experience taught Matt about many privileges he had that others were denied.
Matt continued to see people with disabilities being treated unfairly outside of his school experiences. While living in Taiwan, he saw a malnourished, adolescent boy being kept in a separate room because of his disability. He was given food there from under the door. This is an experience that Matt says has haunted him. It is also what helps keeps him focused on why he does the work he does.
Matt learned early in his academic career that he cannot solve these problems on his own. As a result, he found himself drawn to the UCEDD (University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities) system. Matt is proud to say that the CPD has been historically recognized as a leader in the nation. They have helped to drive social and political change for people with disabilities.