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Inclusion for people with Developmental Disabilities

March 20, 2018 | 0 Comments
by Martha Maltais

 Mary is 28 years old.  More than anything else, she wants to have friends, she wants to feel valued and she wants a job.

Mary has a developmental disability.  She wonders why she has not been successful in the workplace.  She continues to receive services that help her to interact with people around her.  She is willing to work hard at a variety of jobs.  Despite being a good candidate for the world of work, she remains on the outside looking in. To be successful in the work place, she needs help overcoming social anxieties and communication problems.  Due to other accompanying medical needs, she will likely need long-term services to achieve and remain successful in the workplace.

The wants and needs of Mary are not uncommon for people with developmental disabilities.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a time for our community to focus on successes and challenges in meeting the needs of people with developmental disabilities.    In recent years, our system of care has come to recognize that for long-term success, many people with developmental disabilities need assistance integrating into the community, learning how to assimilate and develop lasting relationships.  While this model of care has its own benefits, service providers frequently offer these types of socialization supports in preparation for, and in anticipation of, employment.  

It is no longer good enough just to assist individuals in accessing community activities.   Service providers must help people with disabilities take next steps in bridging relationship gaps by supporting these individuals in identifying ways to explore their interests and use community resources to make connections, the same as any other citizen.  These connections are vital in helping people achieve long-term socialization and employment goals in order to become active, important, and accepted members of the community.  

Community involvement can take many different forms.   Like everyone else, people with disabilities have talents and skills to make a meaningful contribution to the world around us.  Opportunity, independence, and full assimilation make “a life like yours” more of a real possibility. 

Achieving inclusion depends on good service delivery, the commitment of the individual to build relationships, and how the community responds.   As people with developmental disabilities become contributors in their communities, a subtle shift takes place.  The importance of giving back cannot be overstated.  Whether through volunteer or paid employment, the dignity of work offers a greater level of acceptance and ultimately leads to a new norm.  When a community is willing to look beyond the disability, to see and understand the important and meaningful contributions that people with disabilities can make, the community becomes the beneficiary.

Accountability is another important part of the equation when people with developmental disabilities have full community membership.  For instance, it is logical that employment opportunities consider a person’s abilities and aptitudes.  But it is equally true that employment success requires accountability for work performance that meets standards, and a support system that helps make that happen. 

Success at achieving full community membership requires an honest appraisal of the effectiveness of our system of care.  We must analyze how efficient we are with limited financial resources.  If we are to move ahead in creating equal opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, a system of quality improvement must be continually evaluating how people with disabilities are supported in their communities.  If real and lasting improvements are not taking place for the people we serve, it is time to take another look. 

Perhaps the most critical element for successful community participation and inclusion is an open mind.   Acceptance starts when people welcome people as equals.    When the fabric of our community includes people with developmental disabilities, we have taken the first step in building better neighborhoods, better communities, and ultimately, a better world.


Reprinted from Vital Signs, a Column of the Charlottesville Daily Progress


Martha is the Senior Director of Adult Development Services for Region Ten Community Services Board.