People with disabilities and their families fought long and hard for the right to leave institutional life behind in order to live, work, and play in concert with their fellow citizens.
As a system, we got on board. We secured all the words and phrases…least restrictive, community integration, community based, competitive community employment, etc.
We created integration specialists, counselors, and liaisons, and we developed measures. Lots of measures.
A quick Google search on the term Community Integration produces 533,000,000 results.
Now you’d think, given our devotion, dedication, and expertise to the topic, that people with disabilities would experience integration to their hearts’ content.
You’d be wrong.
As a system we still struggle with the idea of community integration as a meaningful and sustained experience for people with developmental disabilities. Let’s look at why.
It’s not that...
Her entrance into this world was complicated and as a result, she was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy.
Unable to speak, walk, bathe, eat, rollover, or do nearly anything else on her own, you might think she lived an isolated life.
Rita went everywhere everyone else did, and then some. Shopping, church, camp, the Y, bowling, amusement parks, fairs, concerts, movies, theater, parks, zoos, other states, simply everywhere. Her 50 years on this planet were simply filled with adventures.
At just 5 years my senior, we interacted more as cousins than aunt and niece. And because of our close relationship, I often got to go on these adventures too. It was glorious! We met so many people and had so much fun.
Yet, despite a life of constant and diverse quests, there was one place Rita never went.
Rita, never once, went "into the community".