Disability is Difference: What’s next?

Disability is a natural part of the human experience…

–The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act

Those nine words that begin the preamble of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act represent a huge paradigm shift in the way we view people with disabilities—and barriers—to self-sufficiency. To parse that phrase even more clearly, one might simply say: everyone is different. Not exactly a revolutionary concept, yet somehow people with disabilities and barriers have had to fight for their rights over centuries-old stigma and misunderstanding. People with disabilities—and barriers—it appears, are seen as more different.

We’ve come a long way since the days of laws like the “Ugly Laws” that were passed in the American colonies in the 1800s and not fully repealed until 1974, when the city of Chicago took the laws off their books. In shocking language, the Chicago Municipal Code Sec. 36034 stated, “no person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view…” These laws were echoes of many, many years of prejudice, widely accepted not just in the U.S. but all over the world. We all know there are many horror stories of how people with disabilities were treated—and mistreated—throughout history, which is of course why laws, like the Brown v Board of Education, the Architectural Barriers Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and The Americans with Disabilities Act exist today.

Conditions for people still vary from state to state, for example, not all states have embraced full employment for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Those states that have report story after story of individuals who were once believed unable to work in the competitive workforce  living lives they had not dreamed possible.

What of the future? It is only within the last sixty years that our legal landscape has helped alter how society views those of us with disabilities. Yet the prejudices still linger. People still see individuals with barriers or with disabilities—or differently advantaged—as the “other”—as “them,” not as “us.” There is an inherent prejudice that exists, which I believe is based in fear—fear of the unknown. Unless we are able to place ourselves in another’s skin, we cannot begin to understand what their life is like. What will it take for us to lessen our fear, lessen our “unknowingness,” and ultimately to accept that we are all different, indeed.

I look forward to the day when we just think of ourselves, all, as different. Is there a seismic shift that needs to happen, or do we continue with chipping away at expanding the existing laws? How do we inculcate change in our culture that extends beyond the laws? What is one thing that we can do today to help move our momentum forward at warp speed?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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Imagining Great Expectations

Start with the children and teach them that the value of a human being is not in their ability to carry a football or dunk a basketball, but in the quality of their humanity.

–Richard C. Senelick, MD

National Disabilities Awareness Month will be over at the end of October, but the “awarenessdisabilityawarenessmonth” doesn’t stop, nor does our capacity to imagine the possibilities for those with disabilities as we strive to eliminate barriers that interfere with their economic—as well as social, psychological, and emotional—well-being.

In 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the Olmstead Decision, which called for the provision of community-
based services for those with disabilities, thus desegregating them from places like sheltered workshops, non-inclusive classrooms, and isolated group homes. (For more on the Olmstead decision, see https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/olmstead_about.htm.)

We’ve come a long way since the Olmstead Decision. Pioneers in our communities, schools, and workplaces are discovering how important and enriching it is to include individuals with disabilities in the places where they live, work, and go to school. Adults for whom expectations were once low are now discovering the fulfillment of a job well done, a living wage, and ongoing contributions to their communities. And, each year, states wrangle through legal decisions that expand the Olmstead Decision, broadening the definition of accessibility and openness.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was a breakthrough milestone in civil rights history.  Both it and the Olmstead Decision guarantee rights for those with disabilities.

And yet, we still have a long way to go.  I just completed a two year effort as part of the Federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities.  The results submitted to DOL Secretary Perez pushed the envelope further, providing a detailed road map for ensuring access tsam-keoo fully integrated employment at no less than minimum wage.

That is the next step, full participation in all aspects of society that starts in childhood.

What if we supported our children with disabilities (over 200 million worldwide) as they articulate their dreams and aspire to their highest selves? Do we think that people who live with a physical, psychological, or emotional disability have different aspirations and dreams than those who do not? They don’t. They have the same dreams as everyone else.

Ultimately, what would happen if we realized fully that “they” are really “we”?

The barriers that individuals face are much more likely to come from the environment in which they live rather than whatever is perceived as their impairment. I challenge us all to examine our own thinking about the abilities of those around us. What are our assumptions about people with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities? From where do we get our stereotypes and assumptions? Are they true, and how do we know they’re true?

There are so many stories of people who have realized their dreams in spite of stigma or barriers that the environment places in their path. These stories are the driving force behind the work that we do at Fedcap. These stories are the reason we are in business. I look forward to the day, one day, when there won’t need to be laws or decisions or nonprofits that champion the rights of those with barriers. I look forward to the day when expectations and assumptions and possibilities are the same across the board. To me, that is the measure of social justice and a world where everyone has the opportunity to make a difference.

I welcome your thoughts.

Leading as Women—Fedcap’s 13th Solution Series.

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Every time we hold one of our Solution Series, I hear—and I learn—something new that enriches and enlivens my work as a leader and as a human being. Last week’s Solution Series was by far no exception.

Our 13th Solution Series—Leading as Women: How Women Are Increasing Productivity and Changing Business—was held last Tuesday, October 11, with a “sold-out” live attendance and nearly 500 people streaming from throughout the country. It was a great event, well hosted by our Chief Strategy Officer, Lorrie Lutz, and featuring a panel of distinguished women leaders who disseminated great insight and advice to local and national business leaders, staff, funders, and political leaders in attendance.

There were several themes that emerged in the idea-packed, hour-long program. Christine Quinn, President and CEO of WIN—Women in Need—and former speaker of the NYC Council (and first woman to hold that post), opened the program fedcap_0006by heralding the Solution Series dialogue as a “radical conversation.”

Why does it matter? When women are in the boardroom or C-suite, businesses are 35% more profitable, and there is a 34% higher return to shareholders. These are huge numbers. So why aren’t there more women in these positions?

Gina Berndt, managing director of Perkins and Will’s Chicago Office, a global innovative architectural and design firm, suggested that a limited pipeline indeed contributes to fewer women in high positions. She also optimistically suggests that the stats are changing but that it will still take time. For example, in 1970, just 9% of business degree graduates were women, compared to 2001, where they comprise 50% of graduating business majors.  She offers hope that the pipeline will continue to grow.

In addition to a pipeline “issue,” entrepreneurial and business women fare less well than their male counterparts when it comes to venture capital investment. Women garner just 7% of venture funds and 5% of bank loans.  Denise Barges, board member of Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Financial Portfolio Manager of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, discussed the need for greater investment in women entrepreneurs. Ironically, because there is less access to funding, women leaders tend to be more creative in the “do more with less” approach to business, thereby making them shrewd and savvy business people, well positioned as leaders to initiate and follow through on projects—and less likely to waste time or money as more tends to be at stake in their businesses.

Sarah Carson, founder and CEO of the innovative clothing line Leota, echoed Ms. Barges’ comments by suggesting that when a business is underfunded—for whatever reason—it means that in order to be successful, its leaders must be highly disciplined and highly efficient to succeed. Leota is an example of both discipline andfedcap_0070 efficiency as it was celebrated by Inc  as one of the fastest growing companies in the country.

All of the panelists cited strengths typically and traditionally associated with women as great traits and reasons for successful business leadership. Built into our DNA are things like the ability to focus on several things at once, great problem-solving skills, project management, a tendency toward collaboration and natural networking, the ability to scan the landscape and the ability to impact and influence culture—all attributes that only enhance internal and external business culture and bottom line.

Ana Oliveria, President and CEO of the NY Women’s Fund brought a Foundation’s perspective to the conversation. She challenged the audience with an example from the current transgender movement as a way to re-consider how people are perceived inside and out of business. She discussed examples of those who have transgendered and how there is a decline in credibility for those who transgender from male to female and an increase in credibility for those who transgender from female to male. This was a fascinating perspective as we stay open to new ways of looking at gender and business.

Toward the end of the discussion, Lorrie asked each of the panelists to offer a piece of advice for women leaders going forward. Each was brilliant in her response:

Sarah Carson explained that success is a moving target. She cited two keys to her success: getting help—a lot of it—to set up accountability and structure and she said she, “ruthlessly curates my life. I choose two or three things I am going to do and I do those really well. No suffer no guilt about what I leave behind.”

fedcap_0044Denise Barges emphasized the need to have confidence. She said that a lot of opportunity can be missed because women can be fearful of “stepping out.” Additionally she said, “A lot of success has to do with envisioning yourself at a higher level,” and then setting goals and pulling in help to attain those goals.

Gina Berndt said directly, “Be bold.” She added, “Talent doesn’t know gender, it doesn’t know race.” She emphasized looking for talent everywhere and remembering to accommodate for it by being flexible and realizing that everyone has a unique way of fulfilling that talent.

And finally, Ana Oliveria suggested that a great way to re-think success is to look directly at the systems and processes in place and consider a pivot. We need to ask ourselves: are there practice, systems, or principles that we are living in that can be advanced? This consistent objective approach helps keep businesses alive and thriving. Women tend toward the strengths of analyzing those processes for change.

This was great advice from these remarkable and talented women. So now I invite you: be bold: what are your ideas about how to increase the influence of women in leadership roles? What have you observed or what have you done that has worked? How can you advance diversity in leadership—as mentor, sponsor, or advisor?

Please join me in this fascinating conversation. I welcome your thoughts!

 

Honoring National Disability Awareness Month: #Inclusion Works

October is National Disabilities Awareness Month, launched 71 years ago to herald the contributions of those with intellectual, developmental (IDD) and physical disabilities to the workplace.

Quite simply, hiring people with disabilities is good for business bottom line. In the past, because those with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been segregated and “sheltered” from mainstream schools and workplaces, employers were not exposed to the high potential that exists in the IDD population. Now, with the dissolution of sheltered workshops in many states, more and more people with IDD are being integrated into their communities and able to put their talents to best use.

Businesses who might have once been resistant to hiring those with disabilities soon find that their concerns dissipate once they incorporate those with IDD into their workplace roster. Much research has been done reflecting the return on investing in the hiring of people with disabilities. The Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) analyzes the practices of high-performance organizations. They found that organizations who hire those with disabilities benefit both culturally and through improved processes and systems.

Businesses who hire those with disabilities have a greater return on investment. A large percentage of Americans surveyed said that they would prefer to buy services and products from organizations that have a well-implemented inclusion policy. Additionally, bringing in people with diverse perspectives means greater possibilities for innovation and process improvement. With an inclusive culture comes improved employee satisfaction resulting in improved customer satisfaction.

I4cp conducted surveys of hundreds of businesses and discovered that the majority scored “good” or “very good” when relating the work quality, motivation, engagement, integration with co-workers, dependability and attendance of those with IDD.

Additionally, Anthony Shriver, head of Best Buddies International, an organization dedicated to integrated employment and leadership development for those with IDD, cites statistics that suggest that organizations that emphasize inclusion are twice as likely to be high-performing organizations than their less inclusive counterparts.

Whether you work in the non-profit sector or the for-profit sector, understanding the benefits of working alongside those with disabilities will not only enhance your business bottom line but also workplace culture. And while it is the “right thing to do,” hiring those with disabilities is far more than that. It is an opportunity to increase your own bottom line as well as offer a chance for those who were once segregated from community to earn a living wage, receive health and retirement benefits, have opportunities for close work relationships and model and reflect excellent workplace values to their co-workers, families, and community. It’s a win-win proposition and one to certainly reflect on during this month of Disabilities Awareness.

What is your organization’s policy on hiring those with intellectual and developmental disabilities? How can you influence and advocate for greater inclusion in your workplace? I welcome your thoughts. And check out National Disabilities Employment Awareness Month at: https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/

#InclusionWorks

Women as Leaders: Catapulting Business to New Heights

Over the past two decades, a considerable body of research has emerged to lend incontrovertible proof to the idea that when women thrive, organizations thrive—and nations thrive too. From that research, there is now a consensual view that women’s leadership is not just a matter of fairness, but also has the potential to move companies, governments, and societies in new and better directions.” 

Judith Warner, Center for American Progress

Next week, on October 11, we are hosting our twelfth Solution Series forum: Leading as Women: How Women Are Increasing Productivity and Changing Business. So far, it has garnered the largest response ever—both in person and through live stream. In fact, we “sold out” the live attendance—suggesting  that this topic is relevant, important, and captivating to leaders at all levels. And rightly so. Research bears out that women leaders have a huge impact on organizational culture, on improved financial performance, on improved corporate citizenship—both internally and externally—and as role models in creating a legacy and pipeline for emerging female leaders.

In our Solution Series forum next week, we will be exploring key topics around women’s leadership. We will look at the research that reflects the ways women are impacting business culture, productivity, and the profitability. We will be exploring the common characteristics of women leaders and uncover ways to create a stronger pipeline and model for women leaders.  We will be hearing the stories of four talented, accomplished, and remarkable women who have etched a leadership path and have broken ground for others to follow.

While the topic of women in executive leadership roles is not a new discussion, we now have decades of research that offers proof of their impact on business bottom line. We know that women leaders tend to bring a more holistic approach rather than compartmentalized approach to problem-solving, leading to a more powerful and satisfied corporate culture. We know that according to Business Insider, women score higher than men in 360° competency ratings including driving for results, problem solving, innovation and initiative. And, according to a 2015 McKinsey & Company study, companies who include women in their executive suite are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. These are just a few of the conclusions research brings to bear.

What can we—men and women—learn from the strength of women leaders? How can we institutionalize gender diversity among our various businesses? How can we overcome the barriers that still linger in the boardroom and in C-suites in our for-profit and nonprofit organizations—especially when we have the facts to bear out that having women leaders is the catalyst for better business—and ultimately, a better society? Four remarkable women will share their insights:

Please join us next week as we explore these and other questions. See below for a link to sign up for our live stream event. Register Here

I hope you will join us for this groundbreaking discussion. I welcome your thoughts.

Work for Recovery

September is National Recovery Month—a 30-day awareness month to highlight and celebrate the gains made by the thousands of people who are in recovery from substance use disorder or mental illness. The great good news is that many, many people can and will recover from the web of addiction and mental illness.

The not-so-great news is well-known: too many people still struggle with mental illness and addiction. The numbers are big: 43.6 million adults 18 and older suffer from mental illness; 20.2 million people have substance use disorder; and 7.9 million have co-existing disorders of both mental illness and substance use disorder. I warrant that these numbers may be on the low side based on the thousands of people who are yet undiagnosed with either mental illness or substance use disorder.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes recovery as “characterized by continual growth and improvement in one’s health and wellness that may involve setbacks.”  I agree with SAMHSA’s definition of recovery—in some ways, I think it describes the journey we all embark upon in this life. Who among us does not desire continual growth and improvement? And who among us does not experience setbacks along the way?

But for people in recovery this journey to improved health and well-being can be an arduous one. The setbacks can have enormous consequences. I am in awe of those who are able to smooth the journey and to build the resilience to overcome the setbacks. I celebrate those who are living in recovery.

SAMHSA outlines four key factors that support a life in recovery. These are: health, home, purpose, and community.

At Fedcap, our mission is laser-focused: to eliminate barriers to economic well-being. To me, this area of wellness—and of recovery—is the lynchpin to improved health and well-being. You can have ups and downs in social, spiritual, physical, and emotional well-being, but without economic self-sufficiency, these other areas of our life cannot possibly thrive.

At Fedcap, our mantra is: work completes treatment. Work is also the cornerstone of recovery. It gives people purpose. It gives people meaningful activity that grounds them and anchors them in society. That work can take many forms, but feeling productive and taking action are critical components of a life well-lived.

Here are Fedcap, every piece of work we do alongside our wonderful affiliates offers a way to improve health and well-being. For example, our Aspirations program helps support adults with persistent or severe mental illness find meaning through vocational rehabilitation and foundational skills like communication, independent living skills, and job readiness preparation. Our extensive vocational rehab programs include training and job readiness in the areas of culinary arts, custodial arts, data and digital imaging, and office skills. Our internship program places individuals in supportive environments where it’s possible to practice and stretch newly learned skills. It is through these programs along with our work through Easterseals, Community Work Services, The Way to Work, Granite Pathways, Wildcat and ReServe that thousands of individual each year find their way through the obstacles that have challenged their economic well-being. Included in these thousands are many people who have faced mental illness and substance use disorders.

Just because September will soon be over doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to celebrate the victories of individuals whose lives we touch every day. It means that we will continue to work to educate employers about the strength of hiring those in recovery. It means that we will continue to offer skills and job readiness foundational training to those whom we serve. It means that we will continue to pursue direct services to those in recovery, particularly through our Safe Harbor Recovery Center in New Hampshire, under the auspices of Granite Pathways. Every day I am thinking of ways to support the brave men and women who persist in their recovery. I invite you to join me in this effort.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Relevant, Sustainable, Impact in Recovery

September is National Recovery Month, a national observance, born 27 years ago to celebrate the successes of those who have recovered from mental illness and substance abuse. While it is true that the statistics around substance abuse are chilling, the number of people recovering from both substance use and mental illness is on the rise. Millions have recovered and have gone on to lead healthy, productive, meaningful, and self-sustaining lives. It can be done.

National Recovery Month is a time to celebrate these successes and continue to bring awareness and education to the public about what is possible in recovery. It involves hearing the stories of those who have overcome their addiction and inspiring those still struggling with tales of encouragement. It is about finding compassion for those we know who are in recovery and cheering them on, knowing that recovery is possible.

Our mantra at Fedcap is about creating relevant, sustainable impact in the lives of those we serve. Each of those words has special meaning and we did not land on them lightly. To be successful in recovery. the path has to be relevant, it has to be sustainable, and it has to have impact—for the individual in recovery and for those who live with, work with, and love him.

What makes recovery relevant? Recovery must be tailored to the needs of the individual. It must be a process that meets the individual where she is—no matter where she is, without judgment, without a prescribed formula for behavior, and with unconditional support. There is no cookie cutter process for recovery. Relevance in recovery means listening with love to victories as well as struggles and truly witnessing and mirroring back the best of what’s possible for that person. It means understanding her family dynamics and her history and accepting her for who she is, right here, right now.

What makes recovery sustainable? Many people believe that once an individual attains sobriety, that’s success. But focusing only on sobriety can be a set up for failure. The process of recovery takes the time it takes depending on the individual. For some it may be months, for others it may be decades. Sustaining sobriety and truly recovering means looking at recovery from a multi-faceted approach. It means creating an individualized plan that involves the support of professionals and peers who have been through the process and come out the other side. It can involve a variety of therapies from mindfulness to learning new skills to establishing healthier habits. It means regularly assessing what’s working and determining if additional support is needed at any time. It means imbuing the individual with the power to make good choices in relationships, finances, physical and economic well-being. For those of us who love the individual in recovery, it means choosing to support with fierce respect.

Finally, what creates impact in recovery is looking beyond the process to understanding what will work not only for the individual but for those in her immediate orb. How have those people been affected and how can they, too, recover from the effects of addiction? Recovery is not just an individual process, but it involves the community as they grow to understand the nature of substance use disorder and mental illness.  Impact also means carrying the message—as in AA—of experience, strength, and hope that reflects the stories of effects of addiction. Impact also means telling the truth about mental illness and addiction thus wiping away the shame.

I’ve heard the expression: the opposite of shame is compassion. This is what National Recovery Month is all about—it’s about education, awareness, and compassion for all of those—of us—who are affected by substance use disorder or mental illness. During this month, I plan to think each day about ways to support those in recovery on a day-to-day basis. I am happy to report that our Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, NH, is serving dozens of people who go there to experience relevant, sustainable, and impactful care in their recovery. What can you do to inspire relevant, sustainable, impact in recovery?