Posted by Allison Hammond on Tuesday, December 3, 2013
The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute.
The belief in freedom has often been the force that has altered organizational structures, or programs, that have damaged and unduly restricted people with disabilities. Without the drive to free people we may still have large state institutions for people with developmental disabilities in our state. The drive to change conditions in which people are treated unfairly has also been a force that has led to structural changes. Both kinds of forces have been strong examples of the ‘right dynamic’, that is a thrust to make things better.
Unchecked forces, even those acting in the name of freedom and justice, must be given direction and a constructive form or that can lead to negative results. Even creative forces must be channeled into routines and predictable process in order to serve people well. Of course such patterns of behavior can have destructive consequences, no matter how well intended and seemingly benign they may be. We need both, the dynamic drive to alter circumstances that are destructive, and we need structures to give direction and shape to practices that benefit people.
So, how do we know when our drive is off the mark and when our structure is working against the well-being of others? The typical answer in the field of human service is to establish a set of measurements to determine whether desired goals have been met, as well as tools to determine whether the methods to achieve those goals are consistent with proper rules, or standards. Then we get into trouble because we inevitably go too far, and our means of measurement simply become ways to justify the goals and standards we set. The well-being of the person who is supposed to benefit from the structures becomes subordinate, and the structure itself becomes paramount.
I think that the only effective way to determine whether our probing and striving, are leading to new programs that truly meet peoples’ needs is to look at their impact on each individual. Only by taking stock of each person being served can we determine whether our drives and our structures have added value to his or her life. Taking this alternative flies in the face of all existing conventional wisdom which supports measuring impact on the group and not the individual. And yet, it is the ever changing life of each individual that provides the right kind of dynamic and that requires the right kind of structure. We have to keep striving to improve and we have to keep asking ourselves if what we are striving for is helping or limiting.
When our drive to change things is not working, we need to try another way. When our programs are not helping, we need to alter them. Going one by one is the only real way to know which is which.
Posted by Allison Hammond on Wednesday, November 27, 2013
The blog this week was written by Michele Momotiuk, Administrative Assistant at The Arcadia Institute and finishes our series commenting on recent news stories.
This season NBC has two shows that feature characters with physical disabilities. “Ironside” stars Blair Underwood who acts as character in a wheelchair and “The Michael J. Fox Show” which stars Michael J. Fox who has Parkinson’s as does his character. Other shows that have characters with disabilities include a character with Asperger’s NBC’s “Parenthood,” actors and characters on Fox’s “Glee,” and characters with prosthetic legs on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” among others. While it is refreshing to see more characters that begin to reflect the diversity found in our society, it can also be frustrating to see how far we have to go to fully include people with disabilities.
In the news recently, there was some controversy over not casting a person with a disability in the lead role of “Ironside.” “Sons of Anarchy” star Kurt Yaeger, an actor who lost his left leg after a motorcycle accident said, “This would be like being in the ‘50s and having a white guy do blackface, at this point. You need to start having disabled people playing disabled characters. Period.” According to the article, NBC declined to comment on the casting and whether any disabled actors auditioned for the role. (From The Wrap, http://www.thewrap.com/tv/article/hollywoods-disabled-react-ironside-casting-all-we-want-chance-91886)
At The Arcadia Institute and in the Connect Kalamazoo network we realize that it is a journey to inclusion and we all need to stay on that journey to fully include people with disabilities in our community or in this case on television. It’s ok to not have all the answers and to ask questions. Reading this story inspires me to think about where the organizations in which I am involved are on the journey to inclusion. What can I do to create a community that is welcoming, supportive and respectful of people with disabilities?
Posted by Allison Hammond on Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The blog this week was written by Deborah Warfield, a Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute.
The Arcadia Institute understands the impact that media has upon shaping perceptions of persons with disabilities. “Recently in the news there have been stories about adults and children with disabilities in our community. Some stories have been positive about people with disabilities being included in very meaningful ways. Yet, other stories have been about people with disabilities being misunderstood and even unwelcomed.” Join the Connect Kalamazoo Network (MLive August 2013)
One very useful way to insure that respect is being communicated through the choice of words is to learn about and apply “Person First Language.” PFL respectfully puts the person before the disability; and a person with a disability is more like people without disabilities.
The benefits far outweigh the challenges of the time it takes to think through and select the most optimum and respectful choice of words to describe the situation regarding persons with disabilities. Until it happens to you or a loved one or friend, it may be considered simply a subtle difference in word placement. I can speak from personal experience as I am a very actively engaged member of this community. I also happen to have mobility and access challenges due to the loss of my left leg. I use a prosthetic leg and have baffled many with my level of independence as a person who owns and drives a car, lives in a two-story home and is working towards returning to a functional level of bike riding by this time next year.
I do consider myself a person with a disability, but that is secondary to my identity as an active and engaged member of this community, my family, church and circle of friends. Overtime, my life-in-action-inclusive has become a visual education of my capabilities more so than my disability. When my name occasionally makes it to the media I have never been described as a disabled small business owner, employee, family member or friend.
Consciously and intentionally take the time to think before you describe or define a person with disabilities. This is especially important in the media, because print becomes a permanent record that has the power to influence, shape or misshape perceptions of persons with disabilities.
I challenge this community to aspire to be known for more than a Kalamazoo Promise in the area of higher education. Why not also be known as the city that is inclusive with intention across the board. It’s not only the respectful thing to do, its ultimately good for business. In closing, I ask you to ponder the question, who do you say YOU are? Let us as a community extend that same courtesy to those of us who are different but equally able. This cartoon pretty much sums it up for this topic.
Posted by Allison Hammond on Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Recently, in the Kalamazoo Gazette there was an article about Olivia Vasquez becoming the Homecoming Queen at Loy Norrix High school. I was delighted as I have had an opportunity to meet this vivacious young lady who has Down Syndrome. Today, I read an article about Jimmy Jenson, the first man with Down Syndrome to complete the New York City Marathon. Also, in the news was Jacob Brock who scored his first touchdown in a football game and he happens to have Cerebral Palsy. It is encouraging that more and more people with disabilities are being welcomed, supported and respected in certain aspects of the community. This is good news.
The Arcadia Institute and the Connect Kalamazoo Network appreciate this movement toward inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities; however, as we celebrate these events we also stop to reflect on what this means for people. The people above have been celebrated for accomplishments in the areas of sport, recreation and social life. Yet, what about being welcomed, supported and respected in the areas of choosing where to live and competitive employment?
People with disabilities often live with very low incomes, have little choice about where to live and high unemployment. They still are most likely segregated in school and special programs. Many live in isolated lives that are controlled by family or paid supports.
So the question I think we need to ask when we read the stories above is: How the inclusiveness shared in theses news stories will be translated in to more opportunities for people with disabilities to live where they choose and be competitively employed? When Olivia and her peers are adults will they be willing to help her find employment or support people with disabilities as co-workers? When the young men who stood aside so Jacob could score a touchdown are finding their own homes will they be willing to create a neighborhood that supports people with disabilities in their own homes? How can we all create the whole community to be welcoming, supportive and respectful of people with disabilities?
Posted by Allison Hammond on Tuesday, November 5, 2013
There have been a number of newspaper articles recently about the mother who allegedly attempted to kill her child with autism and herself. Scott Shrum, Executive Director of Residential Opportunities, Inc., which operates the Great Lakes Center for Autism Treatment and Research, also wrote a Guest Column in the Kalamazoo Gazette about the impact on families that have a member with autism, or perhaps a related disability.
I am familiar with similar stories of families under significant stress, as well as families whose lives have been greatly enriched because of a son or daughter or sibling with a whole variety of disabilities. None of these families are heroes, nor would they purport to be. They are usually people doing their best for their family.
In our current work the focus is on what the whole community, beyond the immediate family and the specialized services for people with disabilities can do to support the individual and the family. On a very personal level, think of a time in a grocery store when a child has made loud, objectionable noises and you immediately condemned its parent for not making the child stop. What if that mother or dad cannot make the child stop, and the child has become so overly stimulated in that environment that she cannot stop herself? And what if that parent cannot just abruptly leave without purchasing the groceries?
What might you do? Perhaps help out, though you would probably not know what to do . We all could refrain from looking at the parent and child as if they have no right to be there. Don’t judge the parent without knowing more about the child. With some effort, perhaps, we can all do that. Observe closely and try to understand the possible reasons for the child’s behavior. With some patience and practice we can do that.
We probably will never reach a stage where as a community we would fully welcome a screaming child in a grocery store, but imagine much better that parent, and perhaps that child, would feel about themselves if we let them know that the community is for them and not against them. In my conversations with parents they talk about what a difference it would make if others of us acknowledged their child and validated them, even when their behavior is different and even hard to take.