The blog this week was written by Jennifer Goodwill, a Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. The Arcadia Institute is working to make it possible for people with disabilities to be welcomed, supported and respected in their community. Last week’s blog discussed the importance of respecting and supporting people with disabilities so they may share their unique gifts with the community. Another way in which we welcome people in our community is by talking to each other. It seems so simplistic and obvious, yet the talking I am referring to isn’t always easy or comfortable. As staff, we have spent time reflecting on what it means to really talk to each other. It means listening as much, if not more, than it means talking. We need to be aware of the assumptions we hold and how this influences our thinking and decisions. And, when we are talking, we need to be open to new ideas and willing to be vulnerable in sharing honestly about ourselves.
Through our Community Participation Initiative and Community Brokering, we are very intentional about taking the time to talk to people. By taking this time, we learn about the unique gifts that individuals have to offer and where in the community they may contribute their gifts. We do this by meeting with the individual and often their families. But we focus on talking to the individual, not talking about the individual or talking for the individual. When we focus on the person, we learn about how they communicate. Some people aren’t verbally expressive, so we communicate through drawing and pictures. We learn to ask questions in different ways and to be patient for an answer. We spend time with them doing activities they enjoy and learning from how they communicate with other people. We build on these experiences to have ongoing conversations and develop relationships that allow for deeper discussions.
We also value conversations with the community. We meet with business owners and employees to have discussions about what the needs are of their businesses and what support they need to be welcoming of all individuals, particularly those with disabilities. Additionally, The Arcadia Institute participates with Connect Kalamazoo. This is a network of organizations and individuals in Kalamazoo who care deeply about our community being a place that is welcoming, supportive and respectful of all people. We talk about how as individuals, agencies and businesses we may work together to build a community where everyone belongs. By talking to each other, whether in one-on-one conversations, or as a group, we are building the relationships and dialogue needed for a stronger community.