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Vashon could be model of inclusion for rural communities

Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber - 12/20/2018

There is no guarantee how you will live your life with disabilities, or what will be required of you if you are the parent of a child with disabilities. Congenital (from birth) or postnatal, there are some typical requirements: frequent medical appointments and assessments and interventions, exhausting attention to details of care, possibly needing the assistance of caregivers or respite care. The luxury of denial afforded the typical population, the freedom to ignore what you don't want to face or acknowledgment of physical or emotional pain is not an option for special needs parents.

If you are a first-person self-advocate, adding to the usual medical necessities is the chore of being out in public. Interacting with "typicals" can be challenging. Depending on what you are living with, social exchanges, physical barriers and the degree to which you are "read" as living with disabilities can all be impediments to everyday life.

This past year has been an exciting time for inclusion culture on Vashon Island. There are new dance, music, art and sports classes for those living with disabilities. The Vashon Pool is offering accessible and accommodating swims for those sensitive to sounds and crowds, and the Vashon Theatre has begun offering captioned movies.

A new housing exploration for the establishment of accessible, accommodating and supportive living has sprouted up. The school district is reaching out to parents with a new interest in collaborative education, asking what the needs and expectations of parents are for their children with education plans.

There is new transparency and new liaisons among members of the community and government and nonprofit agencies. Representatives from housing and supported employment and parent advocacy have come over from the mainland repeatedly to offer workshops and hold listening sessions for people living with the issues of living with disabilities.

For me, all this forward motion has been a dream come true. One King County employee said what I have long felt: "Vashon could be a real model for inclusion in rural communities."

But there are areas where growth is needed. The business community needs a stronger initiative in providing for the shopping needs of those with disabilities. New creativity and collaboration is needed to encourage ease placement and supported employment.

There are currently, despite many efforts, no reliable, sufficient respite services on the island. Parents and caregivers are long past burnout. Without respite, they languish and wither with exhausting efforts to supply what those they love need.

The new experiences offered this past year need to grow and strengthen in participation. And more education is needed about the experience of living with disabilities over a lifespan. What are the current issues? Why do we use the word "with" instead of "has" or simply the disability as a qualifying adjective? What is "inspiration porn," and how do we become aware and guard against it in our small community?

Facebook once again started passing around a wonderful meme. The newest thrust in restructuring language is to do away with the words "Special needs." In the meme, Erin Sheldon is quoted as saying:

"What if we presume that people with disabilities do not have special needs, but they have the same human needs that we have: physical needs, safety needs, belonging, recognition and purpose?"

That is where you can start. Run down the list of babes, children, youth and adults you know who live with disabilities. How do you view their physical, safety, belonging, recognition and purpose needs? Do you look at them that deeply? Do you catch yourself profiling them?

The future is wide open with positive possibilities. As we launch into 2019, let's take some chances together for a deep dive into how we might grow as a community with regards to accessibility and accommodations. It's a chance to embrace another Facebook meme: "Normal is just a setting on the dryer, Honey."

Deborah Anderson served special needs families on the island for over 20 years and currently serves on King County Developmental Disabilities Advisory Board, King County Interagency Coordinating Council and the Metro Access RFP workgroup.


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