Do you remember, as a kid, digging through the cereal in order to get to the prize at the bottom of the box? I can remember looking at the image of the prize, displayed prominently near the cereal mascot, and thinking this is going to be so cool. I had a very clear idea of what the prize was going to look like and what it was capable of doing based on that image. The problem was, the cereal box was not based on the real world, but the fantasy of the cereal box world, where this toy was cool, and amazing, and capable of unbounded possibilities. My parents, I think, were silently complicit with this conspiracy that was laid out before me. If I had known what really awaited me, I would have stared longer at the box, and perhaps never opened it, just losing myself in the imagination of what was promised inside.
Defining Employment Equally
For a long time now, our system has been the silent parent at the breakfast table, and many people we support with developmental disabilities have been lost in a made up cereal box world, describing work as all kinds of things. In order to keep this “Alice Through The Looking Glass” world spinning we perpetuated concepts for decades such as sub-minimum wage and piece work, as well as segregated work settings that were only for people with disabilities.
What I am really trying to say is, that as soon as the rest of the nation described work for people with a disability as different from what you and I do, we limited their membership in our community. We immediately took away the focus of building supports and systems that gave people with a disability the possibility of working, in the way you and I define it, and instead put energy and valuable resources into perpetuating this other definition of work.
Building On Advocacy And Important First Steps
The idea that we will perpetuate this other definition of work for another decade is meeting strong resistance from advocates and government regulators. The important first steps towards equality for people with a disability, that started decades ago with a colorful and imaginative un-opened box of cereal, is now ready to be joined by the next steps toward equality. It’s time to deal with today’s reality and make the “prize inside”the catalyst that moves our system of support forward. That means new rules, new regulations, and new expectations of support providers, and people with disabilities. Public policy is unifying at the right time regarding pairing community employment with community integration in order to open up different experiences and create the ability to give back to a community in other ways besides having a job. I have seen stories of people becoming advocates for local issues around hunger and homelessness or volunteering their time and labor. I have also seen stories of individuals holding down full time competitive jobs in the community and creating connections with people at work instead of only with staff that are paid to provide supports.
Look for additional posts that help to explain current draft rule and rate proposals, as well as how to transform current programs that provide employment and day services, in order to meet customer expectations and comply with new rules.