Spirit of Community Present

The blog this week was written by George Martin, President of The Arcadia Institute. The prevailing spirit of these times for people with disabilities is a mixture of people being acted upon and people taking more responsibility for their lives by becoming actors on their own behalf. The movement out of state institutions was clearly a positive one, and even though in and of itself it did not lead directly to full community engagement and inclusion, it did set the stage for an alternative future to lives that were almost totally controlled by others.

If I think of the ‘present’ as encompassing the time the consensus was to end the subjugation of people to live in a controlled state sanctioned environment until current times, it is encouraging to see that people with disabilities are experiencing a growing array of places where they are welcomed and valued. I see a growing number of people who are known for who they are as individuals, rather than as one among a collective group. I see people gaining more means, financial and otherwise, to support themselves. I see a community in Kalamazoo that is beginning to understand that people with disabilities enrich their personal lives and their organizations. I see the emergence of more and more physical means and attitudes to make it possible for people with disabilities to take part as valued members in the whole array of community activities.

And yet, --yes, yet--, there are still domains in which the rule is to segregate and subordinate because of disability. It is still acceptable and common practice to treat people as a group and to restrict their range of activities only to those in which people with disabilities are a recognized separate group. Parents are still reluctant to take their young sons and daughters many places in our community because it is too painful to see them as an unwelcome and unknown intrusion. The percentage of people with disabilities to the total population that have jobs is still shamefully low. The range of emotional and physical support systems necessary for people to take their rightful place in community is still restrictive.

So, the prevailing spirit of these times gives rise to a reasonable amount of optimism and an unfortunate amount of longing for better times. We are on a trajectory that can surely lead to a broad community of support, but we have yet to reach that ‘tipping point’ where there is a consensus that inclusion is better than limited participation.