Updated: Feb 19, 2020
I read a quote by Henry Ford recently: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. How true it is that many times we are limited in our thinking by our schema. It made me think how great it is to see the many innovative changes taking place in New York State agencies that serve individuals with disabilities.
Community services are now “person centered” with the planning process revolving around what the “person” desires. There are “discovery” processes that help agencies learn more about the individual. In the past, individuals were given treatment plans based upon program availability…they didn’t have a voice in the matter. Today, efforts are being made to provide housing, supported employment, and social activity choices that match the hopes and dreams of individuals with disabilities.
Another change being promoted is the use of the term “individuals with disabilities” as I did in the previous sentence. It may seem harmless at first thought: disabled individual VS individual with a disability. But when you think about it, putting “disabled” before the “individual” does just that…the first focus is on the disability. It really jumped out at me when I was reading several on-line news articles with headlines: Disabled girl…; Disabled man…. The truth is, somewhere there is a girl, who happens to have a disability, who is doing something newsworthy. The girl and her actions should have been the headline. I have a four year old granddaughter, Aurora, who is beautiful and smart and sweet, and she happens to have cerebral palsy. I never want the world to view her as “disabled Aurora”. She is Aurora first and foremost.
The past few years we have also seen new changes that have significantly impacted supported employment programs. Many sheltered workshops, once considered a good option, are closing their doors because we realized that sub-minimum wage and isolation from the community are not good options. Competitive, integrated employment is the new standard. Individuals with disabilities are now working for a competitive, at least minimum wage salary, in settings with individuals who do not have a disability. While some of us, I’m not necessarily saying myself, dream of winning the lottery and retiring, we don’t always realize the social capital that comes with employment. (Okay…I may occasionally buy a Power Ball ticket!) Social capital is the benefit of interactions with your colleagues such as our holiday parties, community projects, recognition of your birthday or other life event, the friendships you have made, etc. If you think about all of the friends you have, even those you don’t speak with often but are dear to your heart, how many of them were the result of a job you had? For individuals with disabilities who do not have the opportunity to work, life can sometimes be lonely.
It’s a good thing Henry Ford went with automobiles instead of faster horses. It’s also a good thing that we are rethinking support services and inventing new ways to help individuals with disabilities realize their hopes and dreams.
Charmaine Handler is a Transition Specialist for the Capital District Regional Partnership Center at Measurement Incorporated.