The field of Disability Services is built on the foundational concepts of Community Inclusion and Personal Capacity; these are our most reliable weapons against segregation and marginalization. As professional advocates, we typically profess to be working towards things like integration, poverty reduction, equality (economic and social), and inclusion. Too often however the logistics of our systems begin to take precedence over the needs of the people we serve. We brainstorm together (usually without the input of the people we serve), create beautiful Mission Statements and Guiding Principles – and then we ‘drink the Kool Aid’ and let the mission drift set in.
Both the field of disability services and the disability family movement have engaged in a somewhat ponderous set of faux solutions around Community Inclusion. Services and Family Advocates alike have seen benefit (or found ease) in developing what I can only describe as Facade Communities. Institutional and risk-based thinking has led to a proliferation of systems and programs which may bear resemblance to actual community – but aren’t. Collecting a group of staff and people with disabilities together in an ongoing scenario where 90% or more of their interactions are with each other isn’t integration and it’s not Community Inclusion – it’s the creation of a parallel community – a facade.
I know – not kind words, and I truly don’t mean to offend – but this has been the elephant in the room for 30 years and the people we’re all professing to serve deserve better. So does the community.
It is our stated mission to help people escape the shadows of segregation and to live richer, integrated lives in the warm and authentic light of community. Although the mandate of Community Inclusion appears in the promotional materials of most services, purposeful action to facilitate such inclusion, relationships and natural supports is generally cursory and fails to stimulate real change. We spend so much time interacting with each other and the people we serve – and virtually no time facilitating awareness and connections in the very communities in which we want inclusion to occur.
We need to consider what we’re trying to achieve and how we’re trying to achieve it. You can’t help people make real community connections if you’re not talking to community members and teaching them what you know about the talents, gifts and unique attributes of the person you’re supporting to be included. The community – whether an employer or a dance studio or a retiree with a tennis habit and lots to teach – needs our support. It doesn’t matter if those conversations make us uncomfortable – most things worth doing make us uncomfortable at first. The conversations and engagement need to happen. That’s where our sector is really losing traction. There are three distinct parties in this equation, people with disabilities, community and advocates. In 2015, let’s put the need of the first two parties before our own. Let’s work together and support each other to have a real impact on inclusion.