The Island Disability Coalition hosted a community event last week, inviting business owners, parents, persons with disabilities, caregivers, and other stakeholders for a conversation about how to make the Island more inclusive. The coalition was developed by Community Services more than a year ago to better gauge the needs of those with disabilities in the Island community. The group’s mission is to promote “the full and equal participation of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life.”
Called “Imagine an Island Community for Everyone,” the event featured guest speakers for a panel discussion upstairs at the Barn, Bowl and Bistro on Oct. 10. The speakers, Kat King from Kids Included Together, Tony Antosh from the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, and Tom Sannicandro, director of the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston, talked about the ways in which employers might consider hiring persons with disabilities and how they could be included in other ways.
Initially Antosh talked about how people tend to view disabilities in a negative way, rather than talking about what persons with disabilities are actually capable of. “We talk about what people can’t do rather than what they can do,” Antosh said.
They spoke about job opportunities, with Antosh telling a story about a young woman he knows with a disability, who started a job at Bed, Bath and Beyond folding towels. She enjoyed folding stuff, and she was good at it. But, she found out that the person who worked the cash register made more money, so she asked for training, and was able to get a better job using her new skill.
Having a conversation about disabilities in the community, they all agreed, was a good way to get started. “I would love for tonight to be a call to action for you,” King told the audience.
King addresses the needs of younger children in her work, while Antosh has more experience with adults with disabilities.
King said one goal would be to build authentic friendships within the community. Sleepovers or birthday party invites for kids with disabilities don’t happen very often, so something as simple as an invitation to participate is significant.
Antosh invited the community to look at things like housing and jobs for adults with disabilities.
“Kids grow up,” he said.
There were Island business owners, representatives from the Island Housing Trust, and family members and supportive friends of persons with disabilities listening.
King said that there is a business component to inclusion. “If you have a family who’s interested in coming to the Island for a vacation and you don’t have a house or activities their whole family can enjoy, they are going to go someplace else,” King said. If the schools or the community can’t meet the needs of persons with disabilities, they’ll likely move off the Island, she said.
“Those of you who own businesses,” King said, “please consider being part of the Island Disability Coalition. Also, listen to those in your community who have a disability.”
For more information about the MVCS Island Disability Coalition, call program director Beth Wike, at 508-693-7900, ext. 252, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.