by David Morstad
According to the US Religious Landscape Survey of 2010, people who claim to be Christian, Jewish, or Muslim make up nearly 80% of the American population. This is either compelling evidence that most people have a strong sense of spirituality, or evidence that they just like being associated with people who do. Either way, there’s something in the data that should get the attention of disability support provider agencies.
Historic and religious differences aside, those three major denominations have a powerful characteristic in common: They are intensely oriented toward a sense of community and culture. As theologians of numerous denominations have observed, religion may be personal, but it is rarely private. Most of the time, it is expressed in ways that are both visible and connective; for example, through acts of service, family practices, building relationships with like-minded people, and sharing both values and vulnerability within a safe social fabric.
While the idea of unconditional acceptance of disability in a social circle is by itself an attractive thing, it is the active and diverse expression of faith within family and culture that should get the attention of professional support providers, the very people who help with the planning and support that leads to richer and fuller lives.
Best practice in person-centered planning
The question of what makes for good person-centered plan content may be answered in many ways, but I prefer the description that is simple and time-tested. Nearly 20 years ago, John O’Brien and Connie Lyle O’Brien of Inclusion Press developed the Five Accomplishments that represent best practice in plan development. Modified over time, they have come to be expressed this way:
- Community Presence: How can we increase the presence of a person in local community life?
- Community Participation: How can we expand and deepen people’s relationships?
- Encouraging Valued Social Roles: How can we enhance the reputation people have and increase the number of valued ways people can contribute?
- Promoting Choice: How can we help people have more control and choice in life?
- Supporting Contribution: How can we assist people to develop more competencies?
It might be helpful for disability support providers and, in particular, members of their interdisciplinary teams, to read through that list with a careful eye toward faith communities and what they have to offer. The spirituality of an individual should not be avoided because it is always personal, it should be embraced because it is never private.
While there is a rich world of opportunity to be found in those elements, perhaps the most significant is found in one of O’Brien’s original accomplishments of a good person-centered plan: “Sharing ordinary places and activities.”
The best plans include nothing particularly special, adaptive, or contrived; rather, they are authentic, organic, ordinary experiences taking place in real environments like, for example, faith communities. And, because they’re natural, they have the potential to be arguably more sustainable.
I suspect that when professional support providers dream, it is of an environment in which acceptance and inclusion are freely and abundantly available through the natural (and naturally sustainable) support networks. Perhaps they imagine a community that covets an individual’s presence, values their participation, and both explores their gifts, and celebrates their contribution. That community – that church, synagogue, or mosque – may just be what providers have been chasing all along.