Building full lives
Disability service providers meet to learn, share ideas to improve lives
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
A social change movement which began in the 1970s called for deinstitutionalization for people with developmental disabilities. President Ronald Reagan shined a spotlight on the issue in 1987 when he proclaimed March “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month,” and promoted the idea that Americans should provide “encouragement and opportunities” for people with developmental disabilities to reach their full potential.
Last Friday, 31 years after that proclamation, disability service providers from around the area met at Nicolet College to learn from each other and share ideas about how to further elevate the lives of people with disabilities through the Building Full Lives initiative.
“More than any project I’ve been a part of, these meetings have helped shape what we do and its motivating to hear what other people are doing,” said Jennifer Felty, director of Headwaters Inc., a support agency in Rhinelander. “We share big things, too, contract negotiating, job descriptions, interview questions.”
The Full Lives initiative is “another chapter in the story that says, we’ve come this far, gotten people out of institutions, we’ve gotten people into smaller facility-based services in the community,” project consultant Shannon Webb said.
“Many self advocates all throughout Wisconsin want to be part of their community,” Webb explained. “They want jobs, they want to have apartments, they want to have hobbies and engage in their communities just like you and me.”
Headwaters, Inc., and Nicolet College, with its Jump! Start program, are considered pioneers and leaders for their work in supporting people with disabilities by connecting them to the community through work, volunteering and recreation. Jump! Start provides inclusive post-secondary education for adult learners with intellectual disabilities and can increase employability and independent living skills among other benefits.
“It is exciting to see this innovation and willingness to share strategies and ideas statewide coming out of northern Wisconsin,” said BPDD Executive Director Beth Swedeen. “Their work has national implications for how to support people with the most complex disabilities with dignity, respect and creativity.”
The Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities works with service organizations that want to move forward, from a caretaking relationship with lower expectations to one that focuses on opportunities and possibilities – for the entire community.
“When people with disabilities get involved in their communities, it also impacts people without disabilities who maybe didn’t know people with disabilities, and they’re often amazed by what people say, what they are able to do,” said employment outreach specialist with BPDD, Molly Cooney.
The next step, Webb said, is to help people fully integrate into the community with the supports they need so they can do exactly what they are saying they want to do, adding, “It’s about transforming communities, family attitudes, inclusion and all of that.” A huge shift, she said, from the way disability service providers have done business the last 30 years or so.
For more information on BPDD, visit https://wi-bpdd.org and for Headwaters, Inc., visit headwatersinc.org.