Brown bag discussion: communicating disability’s bigger picture

June 11, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

image of a brown bagIt’s happened to all of us in the disability field. A stranger asks what we do, and we struggle for a concise answer.

That’s before we even touch on the bigger question: Why?

During the CPD’s Brown Bag luncheon last week, Training and Development Specialist Jeff Sheen led a discussion that focused on finding and communicating a good response to the question: What is your job?

“This is bigger than your project,” he said. “This is bigger than your role in your project. You are an integral part in improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families.”

For many of the people in the room, work at the Center for Persons with Disabilities started like any other means to earn a paycheck: with a job search. And for a lot of us, it grew into something more. Work in the disability field kindled a passion for social justice. It awakened a hope for starting a meaningful discussion about disability without watching the audience walk out or tune out.

Sometimes the hardest part of the conversation is just getting the public to show up.

The truth is that people with disabilities are part of an equal-opportunity minority, Jeff said.  Anybody can join, any time, in the blink of an eye. We are all potential members.

But the public doesn’t often view disability that way. Instead disability is seen as something that only happens to other, unfortunate people. And those who work in the disability field may seem to be saint-like service providers. It’s a view that makes many of the people around the table uncomfortable.  The word “condescending” came up more than once.

So how should people at the CPD communicate a bigger picture to the people who ask about their jobs? Jeff urged his listeners to incorporate two values. The first is that disability is a normal part of life. The next is that people with disabilities don’t need to be fixed—but sometimes their environment does.

So much of the work done at the CPD revolves around working toward independence and quality of life. It involves working with people of all ages and their families. It includes services, supports and research that will make people’s lives easier, more independent, better.

So the next time somebody asks you what you do, consider talking about more than how you spend your time. Tell them why you do what you do.

Jeff showed the video below at the end of his presentation. In it, Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy director Bobby Silverstein reviews the history of disability law–and the existence of discriminatory laws that were once on the books. Though policy has changed, the attitudes sometimes remain.

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Brown Bag Discussion: Disability in Federal Legislation

February 3, 2012 by cpehrson

brown paper sackThose who attended the latest CPD Brown Bag Discussion got in on a good discussion about a variety of disability issues under consideration in Congress and State legislature.

Marty Blair, Associate Director of the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center (MPRRC) and Associate Director of the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE) at the CPD, led the discussion on Disability in Federal Legislation:  The State of “Stuck.”

He indicated that the federal committees to watch included the  Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in the House the Education and the Workforce (Republicans) or the Education and Labor (Democrats).

Current issues being considered that will impact individuals with autism and their families include the Combating Autism Act, the proposed changes in the criteria for diagnosing autism, and insurance mandates for autism, which is a state decision… 29 of the 50 states already have a mandate.

Other questions that are being discussed in Congress include: Will there be a separate funding for family support and self-advocacy?  What about funding for adult services, specifically for those on the autism spectrum?  What is “appropriate” education when considering Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)? and Is there ever a need for seclusion and restraint?

After considering some of the current issues that are being discussed in Washington, DC, this sounds like a good time to keep tabs on what is happening; even maybe a time to contact your own representative so your voice will be heard.






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