When a person is a citizen, life takes place in the community, the person participates, and capacities or a strengths based approach is used. Prince (2009) contended that “citizenship obligations [for people with intellectual disabilities] include aspirations to attend regular classrooms in regular schools; to pay taxes as workers, as consumers, and property owners; and . . . real jobs for real wages.”
Peter Block wrote in 2009:
A citizen is one willing to do the following: (a) hold oneself accountable for the well- being of the larger collective of which we are a part; (b) choose to own and exercise power rather than defer or delegate it to others; (c) enter into a collective possibility that gives hospitable and restorative community its own sense of being; (d) acknowledge that community grows out of the possibility of citizens; community is not built by specialized expertise, or great leadership, or improved services; it is built by great citizens; (f) attend to the gifts and capacities of others, and act to bring the gifts of those on the margin to the center.
At the interface of people with intellectual disabilities and the community, some researchers have said that the community itself is often weak. Moreover, services are sometimes an impediment to community and inclusion, and reflect a relationship between a professional and a client that is one of power over, rather than power with. Frequently, people learn dependence or what is referred to as learned helplessness in the service system.
As an organization, it matters to what extent BACI is either an “Institution” or an “Association”. The institution is aligned with service provision and control, and the association is allied with community building and relationships. Another barrier to achieving community is that people are in “stuck” communities of retribution focused on the economy, fear, and blame. Furthermore, there is low social trust generally in society and prevailing negative attitudes about people with intellectual disabilities.
Despite these considerable barriers, there are possible leverage points to create community for people with intellectual disabilities. Communities should focus on associations rather than institutions and map their collective assets and building community requires a focus on youth and schools; the workplace; urban and metropolitan design; religion; arts and culture; and politics and government. Block (2009) wrote that communities can be “restored” and that there is a systemic “structure of belonging” that can be brought about by “small scale changes.” Instead of a “retributive” community, it is possible to have a “restorative” community that is about “possibility” and “relatedness.” The premise of Block’s theory is to “build the social fabric and transform the isolation within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole . . . [and to] shift our conversations from the problems of community to the possibility of community.” Block also said that community is achieved by a “focus on gifts, on associational life, and the insight that all transformation occurs through language.” A new context for community must be created, Block continued, and this creation needs new styles of facilitative leadership that allow the participants to participate in conversations about possibility, ownership, dissent, commitment, and gifts. The power of this process is “in the asking, not in the answers.”
An edited extract from Towards Belonging: A New Story for the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (Lusignan, 2010).