My name is Tim Greusel. I have been actively working supporting people with disabilities since the age of 16, long before there were rules that governed the provision of direct service.
I started as a part time direct support staff person employed by the Berks County Association for Retarded Citizens. This organization evolved in to present day Prospectus Berco, an agency that continues to provide residential, day and employment services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities some 40 plus years later.
I continued to work as a direct support staff in various residential settings while I pursued my undergraduate degree in education before embarking on my formal career and continued education.
As someone who has had the privilege of a career that has spanned the historical past and the dynamics of the present and the future, I offer the following thoughts to people with disabilities and their families as a framework for supporting successful inclusion and the acquisition of personally meaningful life outcomes.
First and foremost – reject disability labels because this only serves to promote the tendency for others to define people based on preconceived notions rather than a recognition of personal hopes, dreams and aspirations.
Be present. Be present in the places that children and families value, and those that support hopes, dreams and aspirations and a long-term inclusive view. Play on the playground, worship as a family in churches, mosques and synagogues, be a visible part of the neighborhood; spend time in places that peers without disabilities value and enjoy and participate in the rhythm and routine of community life in whatever form that takes.
Seek and establish mechanisms of support. People with disabilities and their families need the support of others who are having shared experiences with both frustration and success. It is sometimes difficult to navigate the process of resource design and implementation, and having others available who can listen, empathize and offer advice and support is vital to the inclusion process.
Advocate and educate. The system(s) that serve people with disabilities and their families compete with other equally important constituencies for recognition and finite resources. Those who hold the keys to the allocation and utilization of resources must be constantly educated and informed about the vast possibilities that people with disabilities offer their immediate communities and beyond. Advocacy at both the personal and systemic levels must never be allowed to falter because when it does, equally loud voices and causes are waiting in the wings.
Thank those who have paved the way. Remember the struggles of those who came before you have encountered and recognize what we have today could not have been possible without the price that others have paid on your behalf. Take time to recognize and honor those who paved the way. Families who do not yet exist will hopefully, someday honor you in this way for what you are doing today.
Full inclusion of people with disabilities and their families in the fabric of community life has evolved in unimaginable ways over the last several decades. As the future unfolds, it is critical to give voice to the unlimited potential that each person offers and that the ultimate goal is to support people to live lives that are rich with personally ascribed, meaning, purpose and contribution.
Tim Greusel is the owner of Quality Enhancement Support Team