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The three members of Paraquad’s Information and Referral Department — Sarah Coyle, Paul Lonigro and I — had a rare professional opportunity in May. We joined nearly 600 of our peers from the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems at their national conference in St. Louis. ¬†All of us are fully certified by AIRS as Certified Information and Referral Specialists (CIRS).

Professionals from all over the United States who provide information and referral services to the general public, people with disabilities, seniors, veterans, etc., came together at this conference. Many of the workshops highlighted what makes customer service great.

We also learned about best practices for following up and gathering input from Paraquad participants and other callers to measure our effectiveness. A session on problem-solving methods and strategies offered creative suggestions and options when there aren’t easy answers or readily available resources.

Everyone who attended had a chance to get some fresh perspectives and new ideas from other information and referral providers we otherwise never would have met or talked to.

One of the workshops was presented by Sarah, Paul and me. “Shouting Doesn’t Help: Serving People with Sensory Disabilities” focused on best practices for providing information and referral for people with hearing, speech and visual disabilities.

Other workshops dealt with resources and benefits for people seeking information and/or referrals. Topics included Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare access and benefits for veterans. It is essential that SSDI and veteran beneficiaries — and the agencies that serve them — understand these subjects since they have the potential to affect finances, employment, insurance and health.

My colleagues and I also attended sessions on resources for people who have Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers; resources for amputees presented by the Amputee Coalition; and future planning for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and their families, which is particularly important for aging caregivers.

The AIRS conference gave Paraquad’s information and referral specialists new ideas, more effective methods and a better knowledge of the resources we share with people every day.

Steven C. Schenck is an Information and Referral Specialist at Paraquad. He can be reached at

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