Sunday, October 04, 2009

Why?

It’s one of the most intriguing words in the English language. It forces a person to drill down deeper. It makes us work and think a little harder to discover, or perhaps to uncover, an underlying rationale for the human condition and its connecting circumstances.

While attending the annual National APSE Conference in Milwaukee this past July, I had an interesting conversation with Dr. David Mank from Indiana University. Our conversation has stuck with me many weeks later. Dr. Mank said this: “Why won't people honor their commitment to the vision?”

What Dr. Mank was sharing is our lack of integrity in transforming the vision of a free, productive, and contributing life to all Americans including citizens with significant disabilities. He shared with me his frustration about the need for debate. Why do we lack the commitment to make necessary changes in policies and practices that are well documented to improve employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities?

I didn’t have a good answer for Dr. Mank. And in all honesty, I don’t understand it either.

A little more than a month ago, I had the opportunity to listen to another colleague of mine speak on the topic of “true inclusion.” Jim Meehan is Executive Director of KFI, Inc., an organization that supports individuals with significant disabilities in obtaining integrated employment in a rural region of Maine. Under Jim's leadership, KFI has undergone extensive reorganization of its programs and practices in favor of integrated employment. For this reason, he was recruited by the State of Wisconsin to serve as a peer mentor for its Rebalancing Initiative, a statewide project designed to shift the organizational emphasis of 10 community rehabilitation programs (CRPs) to integrated employment practices and outcomes.

At this gathering with Wisconsin CRPs, Jim was asked to share his experiences and facilitate a group discussion about true community integration. Jim began his presentation introducing a quote by Al Robichaud, Executive Director for the State of New Hampshire’s Developmental Disabilities Council. As I understand it, Robichaud once advanced this fundamental question—

“Why do we try to re-create what already exists in the community?”

And Robichaud built upon this rhetorical question with yet another provocative inquiry--

If it does not exist in the community, and it’s a good idea (a real need), then why not join with others to create it for the entire community?

Imagine that! Planning a community and workforce without the need for disability silos, just supports.

Jim Meehan went on to describe how KFI has created opportunities for true inclusion for its participants in the workforce and local communities. It was wonderful and convincing presentation. He shared personal stories about creating meaningful, integrated social and economic roles for individuals with disabilities. And he shared with us how an entire community benefits when it is done well.

According to recent statistics provided by the federal Department of Labor for August, 2009, 22.2% of Americans with disabilities were working in the labor force. Yes, that’s correct! Only a little more than 2 out of the 10 Americans with disabilities are working and contributing to their self-support. So this brings me back to the “why’s”—

  • Why is there such a lack of urgency in dealing with this national problem?
  • Why aren’t we demanding and implementing public policies to encourage and reward the goal of integrated employment for all?
  • Why can’t we see “disability” for what it truly is?—a naturally occurring and manageable human condition for most individuals, not a tragedy.
  • Why do we invest most of our public resources in programs and services that deliver outcomes we want the least?
  • Why do we say we value individualized, person-centered outcomes and then limit choices by offering people what we have available?
  • Why aren’t we infusing strengths-based practices that deliver the best possibilities for obtaining integrated employment and competitive wage outcomes?
  • Why aren’t we retraining and changing the roles of educators and adult service professionals to use and build upon these practices regularly?
  • Why is it that businesses and industries are not leading our cause and making the business case for hiring workers who are available and want to contribute their skills and talents?
  • Why aren’t more people with disabilities and family members demanding integrated employment opportunities from the education and adult service systems supporting them?
  • Why isn’t there greater accountability in expanding and widening integrated employment results in support of youth and adults with disabilities across educational, workforce, and adult service systems?
  • Why isn’t there a public "call to action" to use principles of universal design—in other words to use environments and practices that welcome and benefit everyone?

As I drill down deeper and think about these fundamental questions, I am inevitably returned to Dr. Mank’s comment—“Why won't people honor their commitment to the vision?”

As I look around at what we know and what is possible today, it leads me to this conclusion--it’s not only about learning and incorporating new tricks, it’s also about unlearning and being willing to leave some old ideas behind us. When I think about all of these “why” questions in the context of bringing strengths-based employment into the lives of people, it leads me to the biggest "why" question of all—

Why not?!

3 Comments:

Anonymous sustanon said...

Why - Really powerful question! Why?

6:12 AM  
Anonymous John Papers said...

Good Question ask and explain..
Tanks..

7:08 AM  
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