We know that developing more social capital in our lives is tied to many good things like better health, deeper happiness, and even life expectancy. We also know that developing social capital is tied to our engagement patterns in the community. As we get involved in things, and meet new people, these relationships begin to impact our lives. Some of these new relationships deepen, others end rather quickly, and still others linger but don't get much deeper than superficiality.
Given the importance of engagement in the social capital process, we have gotten interested in how people actually learn how to "engage." As there are no formal classes or tutoring in this topic, it seems evident that we learn engagement by observing our families and friends as they connect with others. We watch our parents and other family members first in social situations, and then in more formal activities such as church, school, and other such settings.
In thinking about this our organization CLASS (www.classcommunity.org) has partnered with Chatham University in Pittsburgh to explore the engagement patterns of families who have children with disabilities compared to families whose children do not have disability labels. We are curious to see if there is any fundamental difference in these 2 cohorts. To explore this topic we are using the Social Capital Benchmarking Survey established at Harvard University and used to explore individual engagement patterns. Given our anecdotal experiences with families who have children with disabilities, we think that there will be a significant disparity in engagement patterns, but won't know for sure until we analyze all the data.
Given that we do know that adults with disabilities engage less, we think that the root of this disparity might be due to the fact that their families engaged less, and they had limited exposure to the engagement process. We are now doing the data analysis in our study and will soon be able to report our findings. Keep an eye on this blog and when we have the data ready we will report it to you.