The Arcadia Institute

Making it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community

Entries for October 2010

My Experience with The Arcadia Institute Community Participation Initiatie

This week our guest blogger is Allison Bentley who is a student in education at Western Michigan University.

My first experience with The Arcadia Institute was while working as a senior educator at the Kalamazoo Nature Center Summer Camps. During our training at KNC we had the pleasure of having a session presented by The Arcadia Institute. The information as well as hands on experiences shared with us proved to be extremely beneficial for our staff. During our training sessions we gained valuable insight on various management techniques and strategies we could use when working with a wide range of campers. Similarly, I found the group discussion during this time to be helpful in creating a camp environment that was fun and successful for all of our campers.

Arcadia Institute’s involvement in my summer made me more aware of each camper’s individual needs. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself often referencing the information that I had gained during our earlier presentation. With this idea in mind, I was honored when one week I showed up to camp and found myself being paired with Grant, an intern from the Arcadia Institute. I was told that Grant would be there to help me out with a very caring and energetic young man with disabilities that would be part of our camp community for the week. Throughout the week Grant and I learned to work with each other as leaders as well as building a community in our group and the camp as a whole. It was very encouraging for me to see how Grant worked with our campers and did not single out the young man with disabilities, but rather embraced our whole group of campers. Also, to be honest with a group of particularly rowdy campers, many of them needed more attention then the young man Grant had came to work with that week. By the end of the week the group was exploring and learning as one. The many different identities of each camper came together and created a community that represented a wide range of strengths and personality!

Sadly I did not have the opportunity to work with the Arcadia Institute on an individual basis each week, but I am proud to say that every week I was able to lead a group of children in the exploration of nature including children with disabilities. As a student pursuing my teaching degree I have been able to take the information and experiences from the Arcadia Institute and implement them into my pre-internship classroom. I also believe that I am more aware of the individual needs of all students, and have a greater understanding on how my actions can impact my own students in the classroom. Grant demonstrated to me how essential it is to embrace all students, and not single out a specific person even if they may need added attention in a certain area. I hope that in my future teaching practices I can find ways to reach all students in ways that help develop their own happiness and success based on their own interests. By setting the example for children on how to work with others and that each one of us is unique, we can work together to make a community in which we are all happy to be part of as a whole.

Separation of Persons with Disabilities Equals Subordination

On May 18, 1896, the U. S. Supreme Court decided that state laws the “separate but equal” doctrine requiring racial segregation in private business was constitutional. (Plessy v. Ferguson)

On May 17, 1954, the Court decided that state laws which established separate public schools for black and white children, were unconstitutional, declaring that “separate but equal facilities are inherently unequal”. (Brown v. Board of Education)

The essential point of the Brown decision was that separation maintained children of color in a subordinate status, no matter what the condition of the separate school facilities.

I believe that the same doctrine applies to the separation of children and adults in all aspects of our common life. Separation means an unequal access to community resources, opportunities to improve one’s lot in life, and the kind of social networks that support people emotionally and financially.

Full community participation is a vehicle to overcome this subordinate status.

George Martin

Choice: An Ongoing Part of Community Participation

“A person’s choice is really important. When we meet a participant we start by asking, ‘What do you want to do,’ not we have a nice program for you.” Ryan McGraw, Community Participation Staff 2007-2008

The very first step in the Community Participation Initiative process is to ask the person with a disability what they would like to do. While support staff or family members may tell us what they think the person is interested in, we always start with what the person wants. From there we find community programs open to everyone that fit with the person’s choice and help them to become involved. But choice does not stop there.

When people have the opportunity to participate in community recreation or leisure programs they continue making choices. One choice may be that they did not really enjoy the experience and choose to do something else. Or each time they attend an exercise class, they can decide who they want to be next to or even how hard they want to work out. In art classes, they can use the colors they want to use and where to put the color on the paper. Perhaps, a person is helping at a resale shop and chooses to help sort the children’s clothing rather than shoes.

Being able to make choices in these situations is often taken for granted by people without disabilities. However, for some people with disabilities even the smallest decision they make for themselves can be empowering because they have been told what to do and where to go all their lives. In the Community Participation Initiative, we are working toward people with disabilities making their own choices the rule rather than the exception.

Belonging: Our Definition

Let us look at the word “belonging.” What does it mean? As a noun, the word means “something that belongs.” One meaning of the word “belong” as a verb means “to be a member of a group,” as in “you belong to this group.” When you really belong to a group, you are valued, included in activities, and making decisions about how you participate. Other people in the group are aware of your talents so that you are able to contribute. You are supported so that you can fully be part of the organization.

In the work of the Community Participation Initiative, we start with the assumption that community organizations and programs that are open to the general public believe that anyone can belong. They may need assistance to provide the kinds of support that a person with disabilities need in order to belong, but they are committed to make this happen. We have found this assumption to be mostly very true. Most community organizations we encounter see that every new person who joins their programs is valuable in terms of the gifts they bring to the group.

However, we do find some organizations who say they are willing to have people with disabilities be part of their programming, but they put them in special classes only for those with disabilities. We contend that when programs do this – the message sent is that certain people do not “belong” with regular people because of what they cannot do or only experts can provide the program. These situations do not fit our definition of “belonging.”

The Community Participation Initiative is ready, willing and able to help organizations to discover that people with disabilities can very successfully take part in with any programming offered. We are here to help organizations state clearly to the public, “that people with disabilities fully belong with us – in our mission, our activities, our membership, and our community.”