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Vital Signs: The importance of community inclusion for people with developmental disabilities

March has arrived with a host of new challenges locally, nationally and globally as individuals and communities are tasked with “social distancing” in an effort to better contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities fall into the higher-risk population for COVID-19 either as a result of to age (older than 60) or because of other diagnosed comorbidities, such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease. For individuals at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19, it is extra important to take actions to reduce the risk of getting sick with the disease.

Can you imagine if social distancing were the day-to-day norm even without an active health scare? The ability to take meaningful parts in one’s community, form friendships, obtain employment and visit new and preferred places are just a few social opportunities that would be lost. For individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, these social opportunities have not always been the reality.

Living one’s “best life” and “a life like yours” are concepts that are now at the forefront of supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. While health and safety outcomes are important, it is also essential that all individuals, regardless of disability status, have the opportunity to take the driver’s seat when planning the lives they want to lead. Instead of ideas being met with “no, out of an abundance of caution,” individuals, families, caregivers and support providers work together to answer “how.” How might someone take steps to increase independent living skills to live on his or her own? How can supports come together to help a job remain successful?

March is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month — a time to further educate the community on the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to reflect on how we can continue to improve the quality of life and community inclusion opportunities for this group of individuals.

While community inclusion opportunities are limited at the moment surrounding an abundance of caution related to COVID-19, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been leading more meaningful lives with less “social distancing” due to disability status than ever before. With person-centered thinking at the helm of supporting individuals with disability concerns, individuals are self-directing their lives in new and creative ways. Individuals are working in competitive employment, living independently in their own homes, volunteering in their communities and accessing a wider and more unique range of activities in keeping with individual interests.

Inclusion involves setting person-centered practices into motion in order to remove barriers that impede individuals’ ability to fully participate in the community in the same way someone without a disability would.

Inclusion involves receiving equal treatment from others; incorporating universal design to make products, communications and the physical environment more usable; modifying settings, items, systems and procedures to accommodate as many people as possible; and eliminating stigma or stereotypes that individuals with disabilities are less capable of doing things than someone without a disability.

Person-centered practices are about people with disabilities having a voice, choices to make and control over their everyday lives. As we recognize National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, it is important to remember that inclusion of people with disabilities into everyday activities is something we must continue to expand in order to enhance our community and the lives of individuals with disabilities who are a part of our community.

For more information about Person-Centered Practices, visit

COVID-19 preparedness:

Amy Berry is director of adult developmental disability case management at Region Ten Community Services Board.


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