Supporting Contribution and Self-Direction [PDF]

Supporting Community Contribution and Self-Determination Through Person-Centered Work

John O’Brien A presentation in Finland

2013 – June

Since the late 1960’s I have learned from people with disabilities, their families and professional allies. Early in those years my learning was mostly local and personal, as part of organizations that sought to replace institutions with community settings. Later on, my learning has happened on a bigger geographic map. Regardless of where I am, almost all of my attention has been on people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in community life.

I am not a scientist and I no longer practice as a clinician. I try to be a learner. I assist people and organizations to reflect on their experiences, bring their ideals into focus, consider the future they want to be a part of creating, and think about how to get there. Sometimes this involves individual people, sometimes organizations, and sometimes systems of services. Often I have had the chance to continue my learning as a regular visitor and some of these relationships have lasted for many years. In doing my work, I collect stories from people who seem to me to be creating new possibilities in community life. I think about what I learn from listening to these people and to the people who oppose the changes that they are living (or at least remain unmoved by them). Some times I speak and write about what I have learned. Some people and their families and allies have kindly given permission for me to share a bit of their story and I am deeply grateful to them.

I know that the stories I have to tell and the ideas I have to share will not be new to you. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families and allies are changing communities all over the world and I am sure that there are many rich stories among us. My hope is that I can provide a sense of connection between your struggle for more just and inclusive communities and what others are learning from their efforts toward a similar ideal.