Excellent article by one of the national leaders in disability Al Condeluci. Al has been a featured speaker at The Arc. He is the CEO of Community Living and Support Services (CLASS), teaches at the University of Pittsburgh, writes, speaks, and consults on issues related to culture, community, and social capital.
For my entire career I have been advocating for full and open community. My organization, Community Living And Support Services (CLASS) articulates this with our tag line; “working towards a community where each belongs.” We believe deeply that all people, regardless of their situation, should have a place in community. (www.classcommunity.org).
In my voyage, however, I have met people and parents, who feel that community is just not sensitive or respectful to their situation, and are opting out. They are tired of the bullies, or predators who taunt or take advantage of them. They are looking to develop safe places, off from the general community, where they, or their children can be safer, with their own kind. They call these havens, “intentional communities.”
I certainly understand this direction. After so much rejection, it becomes tiring to continue to press on, and is easier to find a separate place, rather than deal with the insensitivity and negativity often found in the greater community. Still, I think we need to be cautious about intentional communities. I think we have not explored all the macro, community change options. As Dr. King so eloquently said, “separate is never equal.”
If we think about our community inclusion efforts, most of this energy has been built on formal legal opinions, such as the ADA, or the Olmsted Act, that mandates public accommodation. These efforts tend to “force” communities to change, and often there is resistance to these measures. People do not like to be forced.
Before we retreat to intentional communities, I suggest we look more closely at informal community change. In this effort we shift our agenda to the power of relationships and the impact of social influence theory. As people who are different from each other, build relationships around things they have in common, I believe, the bully and negative behaviors will begin to wane.
We know that powerful social attitudes can be adjusted, or changes when people get to know each other. If we intentionally separate and segregate people because we think this will keep them safer, in the end we may make things worse.
All people, in their hearts, want to belong and be a part of the mix. By promoting relationships, social capital, we get closer to that reality.
Tony Paulauski Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
20901 S. LaGrange Rd. Suite 209
Frankfort, IL 60423