Empowering Communities for InclusionWhy This Is Important
Sometimes "person-centered" means only a focus on the person, the individual with disabilities who receives services. However, all of the people who developed the values of "person-centered planning" have stressed that the work of being "person-centered" means the values you bring to thinking about a particular individual's life. For instance, do you bring the values of settling for what's OK now, or do you bring the value of striving for something better? Do you focus only on improving a person's skills, or do you focus on others accepting the person the way they are?
Being "person-centered" means bringing a particular value system toward thinking about the person's life. All of the developers of person-centered planning have emphasized that we should think about the life of a particular person not as an individual, but as a community member. The original "circles of friends" in personal futures planning were composed of community friends of a person, not staff. These original circles were designed to free people from services to lives they wanted in community.
Community members often perceive formal support systems as responsible for people with disabilities; they think people with disabilities "belong" to agencies. Some think that only "special" people can work with "these people," and don't see their own capacity to befriend people. Ordinary citizens should know, accept and value the person with disabilities as a valued contributing member of their community. Communities benefit from the rich contributions which people with disabilities have to make. Community members report many benefits from having friends who have disabilities.
As many people with disabilities have left institutions and as community services have developed, the unfortunate situation is that many individuals with disabilities may be physically living in small homes or working in ordinary jobs but they are still lonely and socially isolated. Planning circles mainly consist of staff and professionals, and rarely include community members. Some service provider agencies have made many efforts to help people have friends who are ordinary community members, to join local organizations, and get to know neighbors. However, these efforts can only go so far without the involvement of the community itself.
In this department you will find information on efforts to approach community members directly about including people with disabilities. How can a community be approached to say, "Do you think you should be a community that includes everyone? Would you be willing to do that?"
Unless communities are willing to step-up, the dream of person-centered services will never be completely realized. That dream means that each and every person is fully included as a community member. The service system and families alone cannot realize that dream for people; communities must play an active and vital role, too.