We Are Community

And, if we are community, what is community?

The Minnesota Olmstead Plan and the Federal Olmstead decision ensure that people with disabilities are not denied access to the community because of their disabilities. The Supreme Court ruling stated that people with disabilities must receive services and supports in the community as appropriate for the person. This important qualification is often missed.

Community access is not “one size fits all.” How one person accesses and engages with the community can be very different from how their (or our) neighbor does. The point of the conversation is that the person (and his/her circles of support) gets to decide, not the government or a service provider, or a set of principles. We don’t get to impose our values on others.

We need to remember that community access is not community integration.

What is Community?

I have had the opportunity in recent weeks to participate in several discussions about community development and collaboration. The conversations reveal important opportunities for people with disabilities to be engaged in the community. They also reveal how far we, the community, have to go to understand and support people with disabilities as equal citizens.

I say this to point out the problem, not to blame or shame. We cannot fix what we do not understand.

When LBSA held its recent housing forum, Dayna Norvold, chair, Northfield Housing and Redevelopment Authority, remarked that people with disabilities were not a part of their planning.

I recently learned that the state of Minnesota counts people with disabilities among its chronically homeless, because the state’s own policies and programs put them at risk for homelessness.

What Next?

The first step toward change is understanding. Today, I ask that you start to consider people with disabilities a part of your community. What would that mean for how you interact with your neighbors?

A second step, if you already do include people with disabilities as a part of your community: Please tell us your stories to inspire others.

Perhaps you’re like the Rich family, who encourage their neighbor with a disability to drop in and hang out. Or maybe you’re like the Holden family, whose friendships extend over 40 years.

Barry Morrow, in his inspirational words at our 2014 Gala, encouraged us all to be a friend.

Isn’t that what community is all about? Being connected, helping each other out and being a friend?