Change is a long-term commitment

Services for people with disabilities need to change. This is a clear message people with intellectual and other disabilities have been sending for years. It is also a need recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which deems quality community base care as the cornerstone of independent living, and a necessary step in fighting the segregation of people with disabilities.

However, particularly for large service providers, change is a lengthy process that must come from within, informed by the willingness of staff members, and carried out with the help of people with disabilities themselves. It is difficult to break the mold of offering the same type of service to all clients, irrespective of their individual wishes. As partners in the New Paths to Inclusion Network, which comprises 19 organisations from 13 countries in Europe and Canada, discovered over the last three years, change is a challenging, but very rewarding journey.

Traditionally, persons with intellectual disabilities had to adapt to the services they were being offered. While the services, whether related to accommodation, employment, or supporting other needs, largely focused on what needed to happen to keep persons with disabilities healthy and safe, little attention was being paid to what people themselves were interested in, what was important to them, what gave sense and meaning to their lives. The most that traditional services could offer was a comfortable life, but not a happy and fulfilling one.

Person-centred planning was found to be key to creating, or re-creating services that put individuals at the center, that were flexible and supportive, and that were effective in promoting independence. During the three-year project, and using the innovative Theory U, partners in the New Paths to Inclusion Network analysed the patterns they were using without even thinking, learned to let go of old ways of working, and thought out prototypes for change. Their learning went into not only redesigning their own organisations, but also helping other embarking on this road through a comprehensive Online Knowledge Center, a one-stop shop on person-centred planning in the context of disability, launched at the project’s final conference in Vienna on 4 November.

As the New Paths to InclUsion Network proved, even large, established service providers can completely change the way they work, to accommodate the needs and desires of the clients, and support them in becoming increasingly independent. With the involvement of families and communities, person-centred planning has proven effective in a large number of countries and in extremely diverse settings.

As John O’Brien, a pioneer of Person-Centred Planning, said: “Having heard the desires of persons with disabilities, those of us who offer services have a choice. We can reject what is important to people with a story of impossibility that justifies us in reproducing social exclusion: this person can’t be supported to live in her own home; the labour market won’t adapt to benefit from the work of that person. Or, we can choose to co-author a story of possibility through shared learning and with a vision that takes us beyond our current competence.”

For more information, please contact Inclusion Europe Communications Manager Silvana Enculescu at s.enculescu@inclusion-europe.org