A Simple Yet Profound Premise

This week our blog was written by Kathy LentzSenior Executive Officer Services for Adults with Developmental Disabilities Kalamazoo County Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

I was introduced to the Community Participation Initiative three years ago when I first started working at Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. I was instantly attracted its simple, yet profound, premise: people with developmental disabilities want to do more typical things in their communities and community organizations and events want more people with developmental disabilities to participate with them. Both parties had the same idea, just weren’t sure how to get there. People with developmental disabilities did not always know what organizations and opportunities existed. And they were sometimes shy or hesitant about joining and not knowing anyone. Organizations did not know how to make people with disabilities welcome or what to do in case something came up.

The Community Participation Initiative is our community connector---providing the connections, the level of comfort and the information that individuals and the community need to get together. In some ways, it is our community match-making service—helping individuals and organizations with similar interests meet and make a (hopefully) lasting connection.

The Community Participation Initiative represents a paradigm shift—instead of spending public dollars to create programs and services specifically for people with developmental disabilities, it uses public dollars to successfully connect people with developmental disabilities to those services and opportunities that already exist in the community. No separate programs, no special buildings, no differential entrance criteria. This approach is also encouraged by the Medicaid program, which provides funding for these connecting activities.

The Medicaid Provider Manual provides an array of services whose purpose is to “promote community inclusion and participation…” The Manual explains this as times when “…the individual uses community services and participates in community activities in the same manner as the typical community citizen. An individual’s use of, and participation in, community activities are expected to be integrated with that of the typical citizen’s, e.g. the beneficiary would attend an “integrated” yoga class in the community center rather than a special yoga class for persons with mental retardation.” (Medicaid Provider Manual, Version 10-1-10, page 97).

This simple approach puts the public dollars to use making connections, and ultimately strengthening, community organizations. As community organizations become more experienced with welcoming individuals with developmental disabilities, they become more welcoming and inclusive to our entire community. This strengthening of community organizations benefits our entire community, and is more cost efficient by not creating separate and segregated organizations providing essentially the same functions.

Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is excited to partner with the Arcadia Institute to provide and promote the type of community connections facilitated by the Community Participation Initiative and ultimately, strengthen Kalamazoo as a welcoming and inclusive community.

Kathy Lentz Senior Executive Officer Services for Adults with Developmental Disabilities Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services