The Arcadia Institute

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

Entries for November 2011

A Simple Question

The past two days, a group from the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities visited Kalamazoo on a learning tour of the Community Participation Initiative and our building a community of belonging Network. A young man who is a sophomore in high school was part of the group. He asked a simple but powerful question of us. He wanted to know when he is part of a circle of support for classmates with disabilities what can he do. He said that he isn’t an expert in the area of disability and he isn’t always sure what he can add as a member of the circle for a classmate planning for his future in the community.

What struck us was that just by asking the simple question, “What can I do?” he is taking part of the responsibility for not only supporting a classmate, but is also influencing the broader community. When we ask the question, “What can we do to support people with disabilities in our communities?” we take the first step for a person to be fully part of the community. We may ultimately support a person to live in a place he choses, find activities where she can fully participate, perhaps even find a job.

Let’s take this young man’s example and instead of asking, “What special services or programs for people with disabilities are available?” ask, “What can I do to support a person to have a life fully in the community?”

Visitors from Georgia

We are please to announce that a group of people being organized by the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities is coming to Kalamazoo for a Learning Tour. They had heard about the Community Participation Initiative and our growing Network from John and Connie O’Brien who facilitated our Forum 2011.

During their two-day stay, they will have an opportunity to attend our regular Network Meeting on November 28 from 9 – 11AM at The Kalamazoo Nature Center. They will then be visiting some our partners: The YMCA of Greater Kalamazoo (Maple St Branch), The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo, The Southwest Michigan Council of Boy Scouts, YMCA Sherman Lake Camp and the Portage District Library.

It will be a whirlwind trip for all of us. We hope to provide them with lots of ideas from our experiences. We will surely learn from our guests as well.

Stay tuned for a future Blog where we will share what our visitors learned!

A Full Community Member

The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute

Wolf Wolfensberger, who did much to further the concept of normalization in America, argued that the way we have viewed a person with a disability has historically shaped the structures, programs or social systems that we developed for that person.

His list of ways of viewing a person with a disability included ‘Object of Pity’ (We can trace such programs as Jerry Lewis’ telethons to this view.), ‘Holy Innocent’ (a person without sin and not to be held accountable for his/her actions), among others. However, the view that led to the most dramatic departure from normal life was to view that person as a ‘Menace to Society’ (Someone to be kept apart in a contained environment, usually in large residential centers) or an ‘Object of Dread’ (Who must be kept out of sight). Such negative views under gird a number of practices today and need to be examined and challenged.

We also have to do the conceptual work of putting forth alternative views. Some have included ‘a self determining person’, a ‘good worker’, a ‘fellow student’, and other positive views that support preferred practices today. Our own Community Participation Initiative follows from our view that the person with a disability is a full community member, not as a legal right which needs to be defended by legal means, but as a stance in life that is just a condition of being. Informed by this view we simply assume a rightful place for people with disabilities among us.

A Wide Smile

Sam was up and ready to go on Monday bright and early. He was going to his first day of day camp at the YMCA Sherman Lake Camp. This was going to be a new experience for him and he was a little apprehensive. On the drive to the camp bus stop, he was very quiet and looked out the window.

The Camp Counselor greeted Sam warmly and he got on the bus. As the bus drove off, he waved out the window with a shy smile on his face.

The next morning, Sam was outside on his porch with the widest smile waiting for his ride to the bus stop. He could not wait to get to camp. His first day of camp had been a blast. He had gotten to swim, climb a rock wall and his favorite thing was learning to play the game Gaga. He had even made a new friend.

This is what happens when children with disabilities are welcomed, supported and respected in community programs like the YMCA Sherman Lake Camp.

The Arcadia Institute: A View from a Board Member

This week our blog was written by Judy Huth, The Arcadia Institute Board of Directors

Following a career in the business world, I changed directions and became the Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of Greater Kalamazoo (now Volunteer Kalamazoo). This gave me the opportunity to connect thousands of people with volunteer activities and promote civic engagement, while helping hundreds of local nonprofits to achieve their missions. When I retired from that position two years ago, George Martin approached me about serving on the Board of Directors for The Arcadia Institute.

I don’t have any professional background or expertise in the disability arena, but the mission of the Institute really resonated with me. I have seen so many people benefit from volunteering, both in feelings of accomplishment and developing new skills, but also in the social connections and the feeling of being a contributing part of their community. It struck me that the staff members at the Institute were making it possible for another important segment of our community to realize those same benefits – benefits that might not be easily realized without their exceptional knowledge and expertise.

I want my community to be a vibrant, healthy place where people can enjoy a fulfilling life without unnecessary barriers in their way. Working with the Institute has raised my awareness of the challenges faced by those with disabilities. As a community volunteer, I can help remove some of those barriers. I’m proud to be associated with the work of The Arcadia Institute because I know they are directly impacting the lives of my neighbors and are improving the quality of life for everyone they touch.

–Judy Huth, Board of Directors