The following posts are the opinions/insights from our IAC members. If you have any questions or comments and would like to submit something for this blog, please email us at info@independentapartmentcommunities.com
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THE MOST IMPORTANT THING
contributed by Aaron Vorell, Executive Director of Casa de Amma
What does it mean to belong? Is it as simple as sharing the same address, knowing a person's name, having things in common? Can friendship and a sense of belonging be created once a month or even once a week? A true sense of belonging has the greatest impact on quality of life for most of us and those with I/DD are no different.

Belonging can be defined by four distinct aspects. First, tobe a part of an environment with people who accept and care for you based on who you are. Belonging also refers to a place where your strengths are celebrated and your weaknesses supported. It includes being a part of a community that recognizes your uniqueness and misses you when you are absent. Finally, Belonging includes being a part of a community where you have a unique role and identity, not just "another face in the crowd". To the extent that any IAC can support every individual in having these four aspects of Belonging they will truly succeed in the most important thing. But this is easier said than done. Barriers to true belonging are many. Some include lack of effort and vision by staff in creating a place for belonging, downplaying the need for disabled adults to belong in a meaningful way, and the complications resulting from social challenges by the special needs adults themselves. All in all, creating an environment where belonging really takes place can be a real challenge.

In an IAC the goal is to go beyond the typical questions many support staff ask such as, "What is wrong with the person and how can we fix it?". Instead the goal should be to begin to ask questions that aim towards a greater belonging, questions like "Are enough people engaged and involved in the person's life?", "How can they strengthen valued relationships" and "Who is motivated to work with the person for a better and brighter future for that person". These types of questions work towards the same needed services while also adding belonging and personal support. Belonging isn't the type of thing you can measure on paper or through a test- when you belong you know it. In the IAC model belonging can often be achieved because of the unique mix of independence and social opportunities. The ability to "rub shoulders" with friends daily but still be engaged in thebroader community. The ability to not be segregated only with those with disabilities, while also creating friendships that are nurtured daily with those who share a common story and interests. IAC's offer a rare opportunity for many adults with I/DD to join into a "community within the community" and belong- and if you ask many living in IAC's they will say that is the most important thing!
LIVING
contributed by Aaron Vorell, Executive Director of Casa de Amma
"Life is what you make it"; You've probably heard this quote restated by many people and maybe even echoed it yourself. While there is some truth to it, the sad fact is that for many with disabilities their ability to "make" a life has been severely limited. The basic choices of where you live, who you live with, what you will do for a vocation, how you will spend your money, and many other basic choices, are things most of us take for granted. These basic choices enjoyed by so many are often unrealistic dreams for adults with special needs. Why is that?

Well, for many adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities their decisions are all too often made for them. IAC's strive to hold high the value of LIVING for each resident. It's important to note that as its being described, LIVING isn't just the state of being alive; it describes the more subtle yet equally important aspects of choice, access to the community at large, and having options that are similar to other adults. In an IAC LIVING includes things like having your own apartment, being able to pursue hopes and dreams, discussions about personal desires instead of just being held to "professional goals", and living a life that is well-rounded and given appropriate value by the person instead of only by staff or family.

Many have toured "homes" of adults with disabilities that were very much alive; but in talking to those adults realized they had very little life. Social options are often limited, opportunities can be almost nonexistent and choices for the future left to those who "knew better". This scenario usually isn't by the design of programs and staff, it can just occur over time unless there is a conscious and attentive focus on this important issue. The IAC model works to hold this value of LIVING high in everything that is done. It is a hard standard and there is a cost, but there really shouldn't be another choice. Individuals with I/DD deserve the dignity and worth of getting every chance others have to live a life full of choice and opportunity.

Maybe life is what you make it; In an IAC the goal is to be sure that each person has the adequate tools available to make much of their life!
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