A recent webinar series by TASH, called Dancing with Community, talks about the basic steps toward building inclusive communities with people with disabilities. It focuses on the research and ways to support a person who is stepping out of the role of service client, and into the role of community citizen. This blog is in response to the first two sessions of that webinar series.
“The world needs what we know and who we know more than ever.”
– Aaron Johannes, Spectrum Society for Community Living.
The WE in that quote is referring to people with disabilities, and person-centered thinkers, who are finding ways to build relationships and strengthen community in an otherwise lonely social climate.
“…roughly 20 percent of Americans—about 60 million people—are unhappy with their lives because of loneliness…”
So… why is community alluding so many of us?
One reason might be the amount of service/outsourced care that we rely on…
“As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems.
We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.”
This got me thinking about my own stories of outsourced care, and how one story in particular turned into community.
For years, I had back problems. My mom has the same issues, so does my sister, my cousin, and the list of relatives who feel my pain (literally) goes on. I would go to a masseuse, and the problem would be solved, until a few months later when I’d need another massage. At the time this was the only solution I saw, and it seemed an all-encompassing, cure-all solution to the problem, and better than any pill. Fine by me.
But later down the road, those sporadic masseuse appointments weren’t enough. Eventually the pain was enough that I needed one every month, and I couldn’t afford this type of care. Maybe I needed a better mattress, different shoes, I don’t know what, but I was a college student on a shoe string budget, so I needed something that was proven to work.
I picked up a yoga mat and DVD, one of those starter kits that come all plastic wrapped together with lots of promises on the cover from Half Priced Books. To my surprise, I started doing yoga at home in my living room, and something changed. I could go weeks and not feel any pain whatsoever. I also felt more energy, happier, and less stressed. But I was still doing it alone, in my living room, and though there were benefits it began to feel like one of the most isolating parts of my day, and I was doing it to myself.
One of the lessons in this TASH webinar is:
When we’re doing this:
I left my dvd home practice for the studios. Going to a studio for the first time was intimidating, I felt like everyone knew something I didn’t. Eventually that feeling went away. I began to hear about potlucks at the studio, charity classes, wine and yoga flow nights, and classes in the park with live music… I started joining in on stuff outside of the regular yoga class schedule. Watching the sunset over Ault Park definitely beats yoga in front of a living room couch!
Then I started doing trade work, going in and cleaning once a week, which got me free, unlimited classes. With the stress of having to pay gone, my practice got better, I became more committed. The more I went, the more I began to connect with one teacher in particular. If I would miss a few classes in a row, she would text, “I miss you!” and I would be sure I made it to the next one. Before leaving for Macedonia, this teacher came to my house and gave me a private yoga session to help me mentally prepare. When I got back, she came to my wedding.
Now I belong to a community of yogis, one that I can tap into for resources if ever necessary. All of these benefits came to me as soon as I stepped out of my living room and began to do yoga with other yogis, at the same time and the same place as they.
So… Finding a community and belonging to it was rather simple, once I got off the couch.
1) Find something I like to do/feel like I am good at
2) Go where other people are doing that and do it with them
3) Get to know those people
4) Make a commitment to keep going back
Do these steps look the same for everyone? What about if circumstances are different?
What happens when I’m elderly? Or if I were a single mother on low income? What about if I had a developmental disability? Do the steps toward gaining access to community change? Certainly, my life would look different, as Tim explains in his post here. But I think the steps remain the same.
The Friendship Algorithm: Big Bang Theory
So what are the barriers that often stand in the way from a person taking those steps toward community? One issue that comes up in the TASH webinar is that with so many staff in place to help serve people’s needs, the greater community doesn’t feel needed. The community sees a service worker, or a nurse, or a program, and don’t see where they fit into that equation or how important they are to it.
While a nurse, or a program, or a service worker is often vital to a person’s life, this staff might only “provide care” for the person, and not a life filled with friends or community. It is entirely possible that relying on outsourced care workers for the end-all of our human needs might unintentionally work toward isolating people from their community. And anyone who has felt lonely or isolated would agree that friendships lead to better health, safety, and greater confidence to work toward our goals and dreams.
Now, my masseuse would not have seen it in his job description to find me a yoga community to belong to, nor would I have seen it coming if he had! But, what if he had? What if “care” meant holistic, complete, life-supporting, instead of specialized, segmented, and myopic?
Readers and community members, can you help us get to an answer?
How can we (Starfire/Cincinnati/Services) move to a more “community welcoming” mindset? If we want to get more people in the community involved in the lives of people with disabilities, how do we do that? Can it be as simple as an invitation?
Cincinnati, YOU ARE INVITED:
who: all of us. yep, we mean you too!
what: building an inclusive community focused on strengths, passions, and love
when: the time is now… it’s already overdue!
where: a family barbeque, a favorite park, the holiday dinner table, a Saturday morning on the front porch, a monthly gathering of friends, a project that needs some extra hands…wherever people are getting together
how: here’s the easy part, and the most crucial: just make or accept the invite to a community event.
Next time you’re going somewhere fun, invite someone new to join you. Instead of staying at home, say “Yes” to an invitation. Any invitation. Find ways to get to know a person with a disability as a friend. Then introduce your friend/son/cousin/sister to your friends, and their friends. We’ll do our best to keep the invitations flowing, and the conversation open.
why: because we are all in this together, services and programs cannot be the final answer for people gaining access to relationships or a good life. And because leaving people with disabilities out of ordinary life obstructs society from access to a wealth of relationships….