Most disability advocates and professionals have been aware for a very long time that sheltered or segregated environments (particularly in day options) do not generate good outcomes in the areas of inclusion and capacity building. Nevertheless, resistance remains to the closure of such environments. Some say more time is needed, others say that these environments provide a ‘place’ for people to be and the structure that is required for them to thrive. I respectfully cannot agree.
TASH (perhaps the largest disability advocacy organization in existence) passed a resolution on employment in integration in 1989 stating that funding for ‘day services’ should be directed towards employment as the first and most important outcome for people with disabilities. We as a profession have been ‘considering’ how to go about this work for 25 years. I submit that more time is not needed.
The professionals who have worked in these facility based segregated environments have followed their leadership, worked hard and made real connections (and a sense of community) within these segregated environments. They have given their best and should never be vilified for it. Time has given us new knowledge however and we know now that community-based options exceed facility-based options in terms of generating better lives for the people we serve. If we wish to continue to call ourselves advocates, transition to inclusion and community must now be our priority.
Transition is not easy; managing current priorities while developing the strategies and implementation path to better futures for the people we serve is hard work. The alternative however is that the people we are paid to serve do not acquire the inclusion, participation and community they deserve. Regardless of the difficulty of the journey – helping marginalized people to have better lives is infinitely more important and rewarding than talking about it.
Develop a 12 – 36 month Transition Plan and Implement it.
-Engage in a ‘Brand Evaluation’ of your organization. What do people really want and need from you. What impact do you want to have on people’s lives? Who are the people you need to engage with? What is the essential message you need to communicate to stakeholders and community? What is required to ensure that your employees are reflecting your brand / new brand. (Google Non-Profit Brand Evaluation and you’ll find all the resources you need).
-Engage in a person centered planning process with each individual to identify community-based activities (including employment, self employment, volunteerism, recreational opportunities, post secondary learning opportunities etc.) in which they are interested.
-Develop outcomes around community inclusion and capacity building - and indicators which would show whether these outcomes are being achieved. Evaluate and re-position as required.
-Start promoting the benefits of inclusion to business and community in order to make people aware of this ‘hidden population’ and their talents. Focus right from the start on developing natural supports in the community including friendships, mentors, co-workers etc.
-Progressively allocate more resources to facilitation of community-based activities and away from segregated activities. Explore and verify activities of interest – find new ones as people begin to flourish.
-Help people identify, pursue, acquire and retain employment (there is a mountain of resources on-line via diversityworld.com – The Training Resource Network – APSE – etc. etc.) If more ‘how to’ information is required, I will happily respond to inquiries and assist where possible.
-Develop a Small Business Incubator and Business Services Co-op so that requisite infrastructure can be developed and shared amongst ‘person-owned’ (not agency-owned) businesses