Request: Our Center is in a rut. We need some ideas to energize our future.

As you know, our CIL has been stuck in a rut for quite a few years and we are trying to shake things up and get back to our IL roots.  A large part of the problem as I see it is that we’ve become hyper-focused on providing durable medical equipment and home modifications while forgoing almost all of our core service obligations. We’ve been working through our strategic plan from last year and it’s time to make some major changes.  I am meeting with our IL Specialists next week and I have chosen to highlight three strategies to break us out of this rut.  1) We need to change our standard procedure of meeting consumers in their homes and instead encourage meeting at our centers.  I think we have unintentionally perpetuated isolation and segregation.  I realize there will be times that home visits are necessary but I want that to be the exception only when the situation truly warrants it.  2)  I want to increase opportunities to get people connected which means focusing on peer/group services instead of always working with consumers 1:1.   3) I want to redesign our intake process to move away from a “needs assessment.”  We are viewing consumers strictly as people to be served and missing so many opportunities to bring bright, capable people with disabilities to our center to help us carry out our mission.

Reply:  I think you are definitely taking a thoughtful approach to building the disability community in your corner of the world. I sometimes encourage that exact approach — stop seeing yourselves as service providers and instead see yourselves as the locus for the disability community to gather and grow and take on their power. Peer support is a vital part of this, and you may want to consider some one-on-one support in addition to groups. Your three emphases are good but I would like to suggest a few more (which may be methods more than areas of emphasis).

When I visit centers, I think it is helpful to clearly be a center, with that wonderful disability history displayed so everyone who comes in can soak it up.Readers, if your CIL or SILC is visually tied to the Movement, post described photos in the comments so we can see what that looks like.

Buy some posters and art that show the disability experience. You may have artists in your area and could have a contest as part of your re-imaging, or you can get them from elsewhere in the movement.  I have some favorites. This first is tricky — it is a poem by Laura Hershey called You Get Proud by Practicing. She has passed away and I am not sure who is still distributing it. I found a photo of it and there is still a site for LauraHershey.com and the text version is available, but I haven’t found where to purchase the actual poster, which is framable. You can find some other  posters and other Disability rights products on line.   You will also want to check out Tom Olin’s photographs on the ADA Legacy page.

If you ever get to Atlantis in Denver, CO or to the Silicon Valley ILC in San Jose, CA, both those centers have a dramatic visual impact with the history  (and interpreters who will give descriptions)  as an integrel part of the environment. I am sure there are many more. (If you are reading this and your center is one of those, send me a photo and we’ll post some examples.)

A google search will find you more. I used “disability rights posters”. To do this right you need to frame the posters or other art nicely, and consider lighting some of them if you can. You want people with disabilities to look around and say, “Hey, I’m home!” This isn’t a quick fix. As you think about this you will see other possibilities — some free year to year from disability related organizations, others as you visit the booths at national conferences.

The second thing you can consider is how to involve youth. Those centers that have an active, after-school youth peer support group are typically strong and fun centers. Youth bring a kind of energy and excitement with them to your buildings. Sometimes schools will help pay for this. Sometimes someone like Kiwanis or Rotary that encourage youth will help pay for things like food that your grants can’t pay for.

The last aspect you may want to think about is how bringing people into your center will lead to systems advocacy. This can be controversial but frankly, if all people do when they come to your center is talk to each other in “group” you won’t grow that audience. They need to know their own power and go out and make a difference somehow.

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Help! Our Center is in a rut!

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