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.