Community Works: A chat with Beth Wike of the Island Disability Coalition

Entering its third year, the group promotes absolute inclusion across the Island.

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Beth Wike is the program director and coordinator of the Island Disability Coalition.

The Island Disability Coalition (IDC) is entering its third year, and program director and coordinator Beth Wike sat down with The Times to highlight the program’s origins and where it’s headed. The coalition’s mission is to bring together community members dedicated to promoting full and equal participation in all areas of life for individuals with disabilities. IDC is part of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the coalition’s fiscal agent.

 

How did IDC start?

The Island Disability Coalition came from stakeholders in the community. The coalition approach is the best approach for inclusion, because it is a shared responsibility of everyone within the community. Inclusion is not just up to one organization or one type of person. An inclusive community is a stronger kind of community.

 

Talk about the program’s structure.

IDC is comprised of program providers, educators, advocates, self-advocates, family members, employers, and community members. They basically created this long list that spanned disabilities, spanned age, spanned everything, and looked at disability across the lifespan within our community. You saw that people were being impacted in a variety of ways — all of them connected to general access to experiences, services, and opportunities that everyone is looking to have in their life, including access to employment, housing, and resources. Access to recreational and leisure activities at any age, whether that be physical access or that the program is set up so you can really be supported. Does the program have assistive or adaptive technology? Are there staff on hand who are really able to work with a variety of different behaviors, from children through adulthood? Are employers ready, willing, and able to hire people with disabilities? 

 

What is IDC’s stance to inclusion?

Inclusion starts with just the conversation about where is our community now. There are a lot of organizations and employers already taking steps. We’re not looking for any major change overnight, and financial commitment. It’s about the conversation, and what can we tweak within our own program, neighborhood, business, or restaurant to be a little bit more inclusive. 

 

What did the coalition do last year?

We did a needs assessment to identify the most significant needs. We learned one of our main goals is to look at recreational and leisure opportunities for people with disabilities.

Our second goal is transition from the schools into the community. There tends to be a dropoff from school when you have this wrap-around support, and then when you go into the community, you’re not yet connected to some kind of services or programs.

Our third goal is to create a community-wide resource to answer questions, because there is a constant transition as we age. We learned that people need an electronic resource, but also someone to call. We don’t have case management, and we lack that personal resource to call. The coalition recently hired a resource person.

We also hosted our first community conversation with Kids Included Together, an international organization that promotes the inclusion of children within recreational, leisure, and social opportunities. We sponsored one day where every Island librarian came in for an inclusion training, including school librarians. This was a catalyst to bring learned tools back to their libraries, and look at how each library and their programs, spaces, and environments are inclusive and welcoming.

 

Where are you headed now?

We have a steering committee of seven members from the community who are the leadership of the coalition. We’re focusing on membership, because everything that happens has to go back out into the community. Friends of the Coalition is really anyone who wants to join the conversation. It doesn’t mean you have to come to every meeting. It means that when you can, you join the conversation, and there are opportunities for greater involvement. 

We’re asking organizations to work in shifting toward inclusion, but we’re also ready to support them in building that capacity. It creates this collaboration between us. Inclusion is a shared responsibility. 

 

What else do you have on tap?

We applied for the Dukes County’s Rural Scholars Program that comes out of UMass Medical School. A team of medical students will come and do two weeks of research, with interviews and focus groups, on recreational and leisure opportunities for youth and adults with disabilities. They’ll choose at least 47 organizations or individuals for focus groups and interviews to learn about where people are and what they need. Then we’ll do a big blast toward employment.

 

How do your meetings create a sense of collaboration?

The coalition is truly shaped by the community. It’s about those who have been coming to the table — it’s not owned by any one agency. During our meetings, people network at a really cool level. At one meeting, we heard a presentation from the Unified Sports Program. Then, Rebecca Miller from Misty Meadows raised her hand and said, “So how can we support you?” The VTA then said they could assist with marketing, putting flyers on buses. None of this was on the agenda. Everybody at the table is just eager and ready to acknowledge that things happen if we help each other, and there are natural ways to help each other that are not going to break the bank. We’ve created this space where people can come and connect. It’s always goal-driven, but all those unplanned connections, those are more powerful than anything else. 

The next IDC meeting is Thursday, Oct. 3, from 12 to 1:30 pm at Island Wide Youth Collaborative on the M.V. Community Service campus. Lunch is provided. RSVP by emailing idcmvy@gmail.com or Beth Wike at bwike@mvcommunityservices.org.