Category Archives: Activism

Join the National Agenda For Supporting Families

In March 2011, I was lucky to be among a group of ~30 people who convened in Racine WI to discuss a national agenda for supporting families with a member with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Why? The role of the family is central to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities across the lifespan. More so than ever before, the family provides medical, behavioral, financial, and other daily supports — these roles are vital and often policy and practises do not recognize them, support them, fund them, etc. As families become the singular central support unit, policy has to emerge to recognize the validity of their position and families have to become equal partners to the policy dialogue.

I’ve attached the full document from this event. It is worthwhile reading. In particular the statistics are highly relevant and we should really consider how this impacts policy on a go forward basis

  • In the US there  are more than 4.7 million citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • More than 75% of those are living in the community without formal disability services, relying on families for various levels of support
  • Of the 25% receiving services, over 56% live with their families (in some states that is 80%)
  • 28% of children with disabilities live below federal poverty levels (compared to 16% without disabilities)
  • Parents of children with disabilities have lower rates of, and diminished opportunities for, employment and advancement than parents of children without disabilities
  • Over 58% of parents/caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week providing support for their loved ones (beyond typical care) — 40% spend more than 80 hours a week.
  • Long waiting lists for services and the increased lifespan of individuals with I/DD have contributed to a growing number of individuals with IDD in households where the primary caregivers are themselves aging.

The systems of old evolved out of an institutional model. The systems of today have to be designed to include a focus on models supporting families through the lifespan of their loved one.

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience that does not diminish the right of individuals with developmental disabilities to enjoy the opportunity to live independently, enjoy self determination, make choices, contribute to society, and experience full integration and inclusion in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society.” The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, 2000

I encourage you to read the full document and start a conversation: SUPPORTING FAMILIES Wingspread

My Role Model Today: Self Advocates

My mother was my role model. Often times this is the case for daughters. But especially for me. I tagged along everywhere with my mom. I was the last one home and my mother finally had some time to get out of the house (after raising 10 kids) and she bundled me up and I went along with her. I remember going to the Board of Education. City Hall. Harrisburg. Washington DC. Picketing. Marching. Meeting. My first school room was a pilot school room started by my mother. A trip to the grocery store also included a trip to other mothers’ houses — where my mother brought them groceries. A walk to the corner was taking the policeman a cup of coffee. My mother was civic minded. Involved. And a visionary leader. When it came to her passion — equal rights — she was unequaled in her foresight, ability to engage and encourage. She was understanding and hope. In short, she was an astonishing woman. I aspire to be a fraction of what she was. I have a long way to go.

When it comes to my brother David, my mother was my role model. To be good in my job as his advocate, I tried to do what I thought she would do. What she would have wanted. And this has taken me very far.

But in reframing how I see and treat my brother and subsequently reframing how others see and treat him, my current role models are self advocates I have met.

Let me give an example. My brother David requires foods that have been very finely chopped. When we go out (conventions, other people’s houses, meetings, restaurants) they do not typically have finely chopped food. Or soft moist food. His food comes. (Sometimes i ask the kitchen to chop it but then it comes back not chopped enough anyway) So, the food comes, I lean over and chop it up. I taste it to see if it’s too hot. I take food from my plate and give it to him. I never thought anything of this. Sharing food, plates. That’s what we do in our family. (I remind you, we had 10 kids and a lot happened over food!) Anyway, my friend was sitting with us at one event. She happens to have Cerebral Palsy (as does my brother). She said, hey Kate, you want to chop up my food next? You want to taste it? And I looked at her and she was totally jerking my chain. I had to step back and look at myself and say, hey what am I doing? Would I do this to her? If she wanted me to cut up her chicken, I would but I wouldn’t do it like I was feeding a baby. And that’s what I was doing with David. I acknowledge it takes a while to break a habit you’ve had for 40 years. But it was a self advocate who helped me take a step back and look at myself and start the process.

Self advocates are teaching me the presumption of communications. That everyone “talks” and we have to learn how to listen better. That its okay to ask a person how best to communicate with them. Self advocates are helping me be more patient which is hard to do in a world of 30 second sound bytes. Self advocates remind me daily to be inclusive — meaning to actively engage everyone in the conversation and not just allow them a seat at the table. Another friend stops me from saying “hon” and consistently reminds me “I have a name, use it.” and I noticed that sometimes staff around my brother don’t use his name like he is an interchangeable object du jour and I so get it! And in a new field where everyone seems to hug, its my friend James (he has said i can use his name) who reminded me just yesterday that many individuals with developmental disabilities have been victims of sexual abuse and we need to think twice about all this hugging. In fact, it was James and his reminder that pushed me to write this blog! (Thanks James)

Now I want to confess that all the things I’ve been learning require a change in my behaviors. And that takes time. But, I’m working on it. I’m working on it. So, my friends, keep telling me, keep sharing, keep showing. I’ll get there.

Parents have done a great job making room for their children. But it’s their children who are showing me that they are not children for life. Self advocates, thank you.

To know a man, walk a mile in his shoes? We cannot truly walk in the shoes of self advocates. We cannot. But we can sit next to them as they recount their story. Listen and watch and learn. And allow their experience to change our path. A journey starts with one step and I am on the road!

It’s called a movement when it’s moving 🙂 Here we go!

Yours in Community,

Sanity “Moments of Truth”

When I worked in business, we had these things called “moments of truth” — the moments when the business “touched” the end customer. And that touch — regardless of who did it, told the “truth” about the company. About how they work, what they value, how good their processes are, how flexible they are dealing with problems, etc. These “moments of truth,” through time, meant that a business could be a raging successl or suffer horrible losses because of how in tuned they were with their end customers.  As times have changed and we’re now well into the “Information Age,” we have 1000 ways to learn about those we serve and various means to maintain this information over time and build upon it.

“Customer-engagement is critical for the success of an organization and in a knowledge-driven economy, the power of information cannot be underestimated. ” (Fast Company)

The key to achieving emotive success is understanding the customers’ needs and expectations. By doing so, companies can identify the most important interactions – “the moments of truth” – and prioritize delivery accordingly. The IBM customer experience framework integrates four key dimensions: emotive performance, products and services, tactile performance, and channels and touch points” (IBM)

I’m in a new field, now.  A field in support of families and individuals with developmental disabilities. Many in this field are supposed to be “advocates,” who must manage needs and expectations on both sides (individual/system) and must do so with an emotive connectedness.  As in business, there are some who are in touch with the individuals that define their work and there are some who are just  in touch with their work — the day-to-day tasks without sight of the people they are impacting. There are some who are, unfortunately, removed from the day-to-day lives of these individuals. And then, like customer-service agents and sales people in business, there are some who got too close to the fire for too long and burnt out.

I have the best job in the world. Every single day I have the opportunity to talk to an individual or family member. I do not have the luxury to talk only to the ones I know. Or the ones I like. Or the ones who share my opinions and beliefs. The phone rings, I answer. Someone passes me on the street, I talk to them. We’re hosting listening sessions and I work to get people with various perspectives out to talk. “Let’s hear it, let’s hear what you have to say, what your life is about, and what you’re concerned about.” And these are all moments of truth.  Two observations:

  • We’ve stopped listening. Just like the political landscape of today, we’ve stopped listening to what people are saying. Instead we paint them in a white hat or a black hat and put them in camps “for” or “against” our perspective. We need to listen. We have got to have meaningful dialogue about difficult topics. In business we say it takes “5-why’s” to get to the root cause of an issue.
  • We have a generational divide. The “old-timers” were here in the beginning. Pioneers of the movement. They remember a time when there was nothing. No rights to anything. There are the “new-timers” who know nothing other than having rights. For the new-timers, IDEA has always been around. The old-timers fear that things can go back to the way they were before. The new-timers don’t know there was a “before” — its only theoretical.

Sanity Rally on the Hill

Last week I met a guy at the bus stop named “Joe.” He said he was in the Special Olympics and the last soccer game of the season was this weekend. I asked if he was sad the season was over. “Yes, really sad,” but he was smiling.  “You don’t look sad,” I said. “Well, that’s because Basketball starts next weekend!”

We continued chatting on the bus ride. Joe lives at home but has a job 5-days a week in food services with the Marines. He goes to the neighborhood diner on Saturday mornings. And in the middle of this conversation he explained that he was very afraid because he has a surgery coming up. He remembers a time when he reacted badly to getting a needle (kicked out) and as a result he was thrown to the ground, face down, with someone sitting on him and forcibly restrained. Hmmm. This conversation had a lot to digest. In one conversation, one person, we were trying to satisfy all levels of Maslow’s hierarchy simultaneously! Psychology, Safety… Self-actualization.

We have to create opportunity for “moments of truth.” We cannot close off perspectives we don’t like. We must continue to talk. We must understand our common grounds. We cannot ever stop listening.

What’s your truth?