Sunday, October 09, 2005

"You can shine no matter what you are made of."

This past weekend I had the good fortune to watch "Robots," the newly released animated movie on DVD by Twentieth Century Fox. Wow, what a creative and incredibly imaginative movie! I loved everything about it. The animation, technicolor, and special effects were outstanding. The comedic voices and wit of many well-known actors and actresses such as Robin Williams, Drew Carey, and Halle Berry added a enjoyable touch. And yes, even Robot’s story line had a timely and sophisticated message for movie viewers of all ages.
Robots is about a make-believe place inhabited by robots of many different sizes, shapes, and social classes. The movie’s hero, Rodney Copperbottom, is born (actually he is hand manufactured from a boxed kit) to a working class family that is barely making ends meet. As Rodney grows into adulthood, he endures the humiliation of wearing hand-me-down and spare scrap metal parts from extended family with no concern to their age or sex. In short, the Copperbottoms are members of a social class of robots who are considered to be "outmodes" or misfits.
Outmodes belong to a social class of disposable robots who could be sent to the "Chop Shop" because of serious conditions of disrepair. The outmodes live on life’s edge and these robots are especially at high risk for being swept off the streets randomnly as irreparable junk metal.
As the movie’s story line develops, we learn that Rodney is no ordinary robot. No way! This robo has a dream to become a successful inventor despite his low social and economic status. So he decides to leave his family for the glamour and bustle of Robot City where he can share his creative talents with the world.
Copperbottom sets a goal to meet his childhood idol Mr. Bigweld, a self-made tycoon of a large corporation, to share his home grown invention. Bigweld is presented to the audience as a business leader with "old school" values. This is perhaps best illustrated by the motto inscribed on the arches of his company's entry way: "You can shine no matter what you are made of."
However, once Copperbottom arrives in Robot City, Mr. Bigweld is no where to be found. Instead, he learns the leadership of Bigweld’s company has been taken over by an unscrupulous business executive appropriately named "Rachet." And you’ll never guess what? Ratchet launches a completely different business vision for Bigweld’s former company. In fact, Rachet changes the company’s motto inscription at the gate to read: "Why be you, when you can be new?"
Instead of helping robots to keep their bodies in good repair, Ratchet sets new goals that are focused on selling body "upgrades" with perfectly new and shiny steel metal frames. Of course, these robotic upgrades are well beyond the reach of outmodes who live within more modest means. To add insult to injury, Ratchet’s new company begins to mass produce robotic upgrades from the raw materials of older outmodes who are being swept from the streets into a fiery furnace operated at the Chop Shop!
OK, I am no savvy movie critic. And secondly, I have no intention to give away this movie’s ending and ruin it for readers who haven’t seen the feature as yet. Actually, I have a different purpose in mind. I wanted to share this information about Robot’s underlying themes here because they are stunningly parallel to many of the same quality of life themes experienced by people with disabilities.
My point is this–we live in disposable world where people with disabilities are often viewed as "misfits" who don’t blend in very well within the mainstream of our communities. For this reason, our society has chosen to erect institutions, special schools, residences, treatment facilities, rehabilitation centers, and similar service venues to rehabilitate or "fix" individuals who live in conditions of such high disrepair. In other words: "Why be YOU, when you can be new?"
When I talk with people about my profession, I like to share my own motto: "Forget rehabilitation, customize!" This surprises a lot of people. I tell them with naked honesty that I haven’t "fixed" one individual with a disability in my 33 years of professional service. The people who come to my organization for services still have the same significant disabilities and conditions they had when they first came to us weeks, months, or even years ago.
Rise, Incorporated is successful because we choose to see people as individuals who have unique talents and abilities. We have no interest in fixing broken people. We just don't see it this way. Rather, we believe in the values of accepting people for who they are. We also believe it is our role to help identify practical tools and support strategies so people with disabilities can use their talents in everyday community environments, especially the workplace.
In my view, America needs to move away from this archaic notion that we are "rehabilitating" people and changing the very essence of who they are. We will assist many more in becoming full participating citizens if we choose to accept them for who they are and offer person-centered strategies to help uncover what their potential contributions could be. Success, therefore, is about supporting people to find their niche in this world so they can use their unique talents and live in the community as productive citizens. In the workforce, we call these support strategies customized and supported employment.
One of the positive things I took away from watching this movie is the promise of hope. We always have hope because a growing number of "Bigwelds" and "Copperbottoms" are willing to step forward with a completely different view about the way things ought to be. In greater numbers, people with disabilities, family members, advocates, educators, business leaders, human services professionals, supported employment practitioners, landlords, and everyday citizens are joining a national movement driven by a core philosophical foundation; that is, community integration does indeed matter.
Where shall we begin? I believe the dawn of a new day begins with an articulated vision. And I can think of no better place to start than employing the vision of Mr. Bigweld in our workforce recruitment and hiring practices:
"You can shine no matter what you are made of. "


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