From isolation to inclusion

Jeff vonKaenel

Not living in a cave, I have met many people over the years with developmental disorders and disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and epilepsy. And I know many people who are providing supports. But I never thought about just how many people have such disorders or disabilities or how many organizations were providing supports until N&R Publications Consultant Elizabeth Morabito told me about her meeting with the Sacramento Manager for the State Council on Developmental Disabilities (SCDD), Sonya Bingaman.

Sonya told Elizabeth that California organizations working with people with developmental disorders and disabilities are trying to help them find educational opportunities, employment and housing. The state is in the process of removing resources from developmental centers where these individuals have been isolated, and is putting resources into supportive services and training to help those with developmental disorders and disabilities move out of institutions and become members of the community.

To be successful, we need employers to offer jobs, landlords to offer housing, schools to embrace these students, and communities to value all of its members. And we need to increase awareness of the potential of individuals with such disorders and disabilities. Elizabeth and Sonya thought that a publication could introduce our region to these concepts. They hoped to start a communitywide discussion of inclusion for people with developmental disabilities.

Our first step in producing this publication was to set up a storyboard session with a group of experts. We ask questions, they explain the complexities of what they do and our job is to turn this into stories. At our storyboard, we had activists, nonprofit organizations providing services and supports, and officials from the State of California. I was stunned to learn that there are 23,000 people with developmental disabilities in the Sacramento area receiving services. But, the coolest thing about the storyboard was to see how much all of these people cared. They clearly were passionate about supporting individuals with developmental disabilities and ensuring that they are as included and as independent as possible in the community. They celebrated their victories. And they knew the importance of their work.

After the storyboard session, we knew we wanted to tell the story of inclusion by illuminating the experiences of people in our region. Elizabeth and Sonya worked hard to pull together a diverse group to collaborate on the project. Twenty-six different organizations came together to support the project, with Strategies to Empower People (S.T.E.P.) leading the way with the largest donation.

The finished piece ran last week in SN&R, as well as in the Auburn Journal, the Colusa Sun-Herald, the Davis Enterprise, the Folsom Telegraph, the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, the Roseville Press Tribune, the Lake Tahoe Sierra Sun and The Union in Western Nevada County. The total press run was almost 150,000, including copies for each participating organization. We heard last week that over 12,000 emails with links to the digital version of the publication were sent across the country to other organizations working in this field.

We at N&R Publications were happy to be able to share these important stories of people with developmental disabilities. We hope we’ve helped to facilitate a communitywide discussion on equity, access and inclusion. And we hope we’ll able to produce similar publications in other communities around the country.

We should all agree that removing barriers for people with disabilities improves the community for all of us. Those who feel isolated should feel like they belong, like we all want to

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.