Recently I had the opportunity to keynote the "Every Day Lives" Conference in Harrisburg PA. This annual gathering, hosted by the PA Department of Public Welfare, is one of the largest gatherings in PA of disability advocates, providers, self-advocates and families in our state. The Every Day Lives agenda is that folks with disabilities should have the opportunity to live and do the same things that everyone else does.
My talk was focused on the fact that in spite of all the good intentions of services and programs for people with disabilities in Pennsylvania (and around the country and world) we have still not achieved a parity for people experiencing disabilities in every day life. To this end, I suggested we must shift our thinking and actions from the current "micro" programs designed for disability, to a "macro" approach designed to change the world. My premise was that the only way we can truly change the world, is by assisting people with disabilities to be a part of the world. This means joining generic clubs, groups, and associations, and lessening (and nultimately phasing out) the separate programs and services currently offered.
Of course, this is not easy and will require the funding and goodwill of government entities, the refocus of current disability services, and the openness of the greater community. We know that the laws and regulations all suggest that people with disabilities be a more natural part of community, still we mostly have a bifurcated reality - offset programs for people with disabilities, and the rest of the world.
I am convinced that the greater community will not really change, even with the regulatory and legal prompts, until everyday people begin to meet and build relationships with folks who have disabilities. When this happens, and people build friendships, minds and hearts will change. Indeed, we will change the world, when people with disabilities join the world.
In fact, I think this is true with any type of diversity. The way to a truly inclusive world for any devalued or misunderstood group is when everyday people get to know them. Through friendships and relationships we change the world.