People with developmental disabilities dare to dream outside the box of standard social services options with the guidance of smart, creative professionals, family, and community.
“I have a dream today…” chanted Martin Luther King, Jr., as he painted his vision for America’s future. From that moment, America was changed. The power of that dream publicly shared with a crowd on the Washington Mall continues to be felt 40 years later, reverberating through the message of hope that set the tone of Barack Obama’s election.
Trying to understand the dreams that people have for their lives is not foreign territory for most of us; as children, we were encouraged to dream. What child wasn’t asked the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
But dreams are still denied to some groups of Americans. Rarely have people asked those with developmental disabilities what dreams they’ve had for their lives. Their futures, limited by the reality of their disabilities, have been about finding suitable options within the social service system. For many, these options have been based on what is available among institutions and group homes, sheltered workshops, and day programs, not on their dreams. Instead of being encouraged to dream about their futures, they have been forced to grapple with the realities of their disability and how it defines their lives.
Actualizing the dreams of people with developmental disabilities involves including the people who love them, care about them, and have been a part of their lives in some way. In Lance Kinsigner’s situation, these people included his mother, rehabilitative coordinator and Mosaic in Rockford. Initially, Lance was repeating an address and a specific name of a State Farm Agent here in Rockford. He began to fixate on this State Farm and began singing the song and always finding the listing in a phonebook whenever a new one was by him. His parents knew about this dream but had no idea where it came from or why he started on the ‘State Farm’ kick. Mosaic in Rockford (his service provider) has taken initiative to create meaningful days for over 75% of individuals in service. Mosaic realized when individuals did things they actually wanted to do, it became apparent meaningful day activities, allow the individuals to look forward to going to work, grasp work for pay concept, and like being given responsibilities.
When Mosaic learned of what Lance’s meaningful day would consist of, working or volunteering at this State Farm, supports began to get put in place so Lance could go to this State Farm and see if an opportunity could be made available to him.
“A group of committed people come together to create a life of meaning and purpose on behalf of the individual with a developmental disability. If the people care about the person, they generally are willing to think more,”
After a couple weeks of trying to get the State Farm agent on the phone to schedule a meeting with Lance, it finally happened. On May 15th, Lance visited the State Farm office and got the behind the scenes tour. During the meeting, Lances Mother and Coordinator determined that Lance had been the happiest when he had been there in the State Farm office. He left with a bag full of goodies and the notion that he would return again.
The meeting resulted in an arrangement for Lance to volunteer on a monthly basis for State Farm. The meeting also proved individuals with lower IQs can work, make a contribution, and thrive in a business setting given the appropriate training and supervision.
Last month, Autism Speaks and Rangam Consultants launched TheSpectrumCareers.com, a web portal designed to promote inclusive employment of the autism community by connecting employers, service providers and employees on the spectrum. Learn more here!