The statement that resonated with me throughout the ABCD: Healthy Neighbourhood, Healthy Cities conference in Edmonton (May 28-30), was made by Cormac Russell, “nothing for us, without us.” As an employment coordinator working with individuals with disabilities, we pride ourselves on our focus on “person-centered planning” and “individual service plan goals”. We constantly think how we can improve our practices so that we can better serve those in our program, and help them reach their goals.
But how do we create practices and processes to benefit ‘others’ without including those ‘others’? This was such an important and poignant conversation for me; and a shift that carried on throughout the different speakers in this conference. Cormac Russell said it best when he reframed the question from “what’s the matter with you?” to “what matters to you?” This shift in view embodies asset based community development; instead of viewing people as either the needy or the needed, we are all multifaceted people with something unique to offer the world.
Every person has something to offer, every person is of value. John McKnight characterized our natural tendency to put people into categories, as a “vicious labeling system” that silos people into one area.
As I’m sure you know - we are more than just the labels placed upon us. In my field of work, working with people with disabilities, this is absolutely crucial – we must view people in light of their strengths, or we are missing out on a huge and valuable resource, not just in terms of employment, but in our communities. People with disabilities can be great employees, great neighbours, great leaders and great teachers.
On a daily basis, we petition employers to engage with us and start a dialogue around inclusion and meaningful employment for all people; it’s extremely gratifying seeing this trend start to permeate other areas of our society. I think it’s natural for people to rely on what they know, their own personal experiences – but if we are always limited to our own worldview, where would we be without the beauty and creativity that comes from collaboration and sharing? Cormac Russell also said “go at the speed of trust”, and I will apply that to my endeavours every day. I do not believe that people choose to exclude others, but I do believe that amazing things can happen when people push past their comfort zones. In order to assist our community members in pushing past their comfort zones, and being open to new relationships and experiences, we need to “go at the speed of trust”.
In the scope of my work, I will strive to operate the way John McKnight suggested, “think large, act to enable the small”. I truly believe that the small, continuous efforts of many will be what reshapes our communities to be inclusive and asset-based by default. My goal is to transform one employer’s perspective, one job placement at a time. And in time, these employers will be examples of the value of relationship, diversity and the creativity that practicing inclusion brings to the table for everyone involved.
Photo courtesy of Jim Diers
Read Other Reflections on the ABCD Conference in Edmonton: