Community Networking

“Only those who care about you can hear you when you’re quiet” (anon)

When it comes to community networking for people with disabilities, there is no magic formula, things do not mysteriously happen.

Community participation and inclusion is about the person and the community and building networks and relationships, and supporting those networks and relationships, where the person participates in and is a part of that community. Some of the main aspects to be considered when trying to facilitate the development of networks and relationships for people with disabilities within the community, include:

  • Community access -It’s no good being a part of a community when you can’t access the community.
  • Communication between members– It’s no good being a part of a community when you can’t communicate with others, or they can’t communicate with you.
  • Community presence – Build a profile of yourself within the community so that others know you and have the opportunity to find some common interests.
  • Community participation- Understand the community. What are the activities, values etc… of the community. Find some ways where your involvement contributes to the community. 

Above all else:

  • Be yourself. Be genuine, honest. If you are not accepted in the community, then that community is not for you.
  • Be careful. By understanding the community and its members, we have the opportunity to avoid communities and situations that are not desirable. People who do not have the skills and resources to build and maintain their networks are disadvantaged in that they do not have the opportunity to become a part of any community. Networks are lines of connections, associations or relationships that we use in our normal daily activities. We develop these networks by talking to others, asking questions and building a list of contacts. Networks are also about finding solutions, administrating policies and procedures, or lines of command or authority. They can be loose, adaptable and informal, or highly structured and formal, or both.

People with disabilities rarely develop genuine, reciprocal friendships with people outside the disability community without initial assistance. Their perceived lack of having anything in common with people who have developmental disabilities is just too large for most people in the community to bridge. Every day, they see people with developmental disabilities supported in groups or surrounded by professionals. They see “special agencies”, “special transportation” and “special activities” for those “special people.” “Who am I as Mr. or Mrs. Joe Public to get in the middle of all that? They must be better off with their own kind, or at the very least, require some kind of special training to be around. They might even be dangerous.”

While small strides are being made to replace such perceptions with real life examples of people living ordinary, rich, well-connected lives, the truth is that for most, separation, service programs and isolation still define their lives. In order to replace these negative images and stereotypes, we need to learn from the real life experiences of people with disabilities, their families, friends and others who have dedicated themselves to learning and being thoughtful about relationship and networking facilitation.

Knowledge is power!

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