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.”