The blog this week was written by Jennifer Goodwill, Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. An assumption is something that is presumed to be true without concrete evidence to prove it. Our assumptions are shaped and supported by our beliefs, our experiences and our culture. We use our assumptions to draw conclusions, make decisions and take action. Assumptions, at their best, allow us to take educated risks and move ahead with new ideas, even when the hoped for outcomes are not guaranteed. When we started our Community Participation Initiative, we assumed the community would welcome people with disabilities. Our assumption has proven to be correct and this Initiative is having a positive outcome in the lives of people with disabilities and with our community. Assumptions at their worst, however, mislead us, hinder progress and hurt relationships. Individuals may assume they understand a situation, such as a person’s interests or abilities, and act accordingly. But when their assumptions are wrong, they cause frustration and missed opportunities.

In our ongoing work to connect people with disabilities to live a full life in the community of their choosing, we have learned that it is important to ask questions and to communicate. This takes time, and sometimes even courage, especially when asking questions to get to the root of an issue that usually brings about a deeper understanding. It’s important that we are aware that we may be making assumptions. We must take time to consider our own perspectives and reasoning, and be willing to adjust our own responses. Additionally, we need to be honest about our assumptions, and ask clarifying questions. Finally, it’s very important that we speak directly with and not to an individual, letting them share their own thoughts. We need to get to know the person, seeking to understand their situation and interests.

Consider this example of how the impact of assumptions may play themselves out when a person with a disability seeks employment. If someone has been seeking a job and going to interviews, but never receives job offers, a probable assumption to be made is that the individual needs to improve their interview and job skills. However, if you were to talk directly with the individual, or even the possible employer, and keep asking clarifying questions, one may discover that, in fact, the lack of job offers is tied to transportation. If an individual does not have a driver’s license and depends on public transportation, the employer may assume that the individual will not be available to work certain days and times. Or, that the individual may be undependable. Digging deeper beyond assumption helps obtain information that allows one to address the situation in a whole different way. Now one may look at other options to solve the transportation issue with both the individual and with the possible employer. Getting beyond assumptions creates opportunities to find more accurate solutions.