Yes, You Are Part of a Movement
When working with the populations that Mainstream Living serves, it is easy to take for granted many aspects of their lives. Most members reside in homes or apartments within the community. Most are able to go where they want and move about the community, and are provided the supports to do this. The individuals we serve are not forced to take medication involuntarily or put into restraints, and they have the freedom to make choices, such as what to eat or what to wear.
However, the freedom and choice that people with intellectual disabilities and chronic mental illness appreciate today has not always existed. As recently as forty years ago, things were drastically different. A diagnosis of one of these conditions may leave you with few options such as living at home with family members throughout your adult life, or being placed in an institutional setting. Sometimes living at home was not even an option, and non-dangerous people were involuntarily committed to institutions in which they were isolated from the community, heavily medicated, sometimes violently restrained, and often treated in demeaning and inhumane ways.
In the 1960's and 70's, this harsh reality was exposed, and the “deinstitutionalized” movement arose, eventually giving rise to agencies like Mainstream Living. Deinstitutionalization has resulted in a dramatic change in the supports and opportunities available to the populations we serve. Funding for Home and Community Based Service models became readily available, and people began to move to less restrictive, and more integrated environments. Significant strides have been made in the past 50 years and positive changes continue today. For some of our older members, this vast expansion of freedoms and rights has been a part of their life experience. Even long-term employees at Mainstream Living have witnessed this transition, and have helped lead this change.
As an employee of Mainstream Living, it is your responsibility to ensure that members are leading enriched lives, while also serving as an advocate in order to maintain the progress that has been made. One way to help the movement is to push back against attitudes that people with intellectual disabilities and mental Illness are dangerous and should be isolated, segregated, or stigmatized. As with any forward-looking movement, there are forces trying to drive it backward. Sometimes theses forces are unintentional due to a lack of understanding and other times, the opposition is more deliberate. For example, the gun control debate often characterizes all people with mental health concerns as dangers to society. This year in Ames, construction of an inclusive playground and Miracle Field for individuals with disabilities faced opposition. And just a few years ago, a turkey packing plant in Atalissa, Iowa was exposed for its isolation, mistreatment, and exploitation of people with intellectual disabilities. As members of this movement, we have a responsibility to speak out against these attitudes and actions in order to maintain the progress that has already been made.
We need to move forward as a movement. There are many ways to do this, but as an employee, the best way to do this is to say “yes” to members. “Yes you can try to get a job.” “Yes you can be a member of groups within your community.” “Yes you can interact with people who don’t have disabilities.” We should continually look for new ways to say “yes.” In recent years, Mainstream Living has embraced communication devices for people who have previously been considered “non-verbal”. In other words we have said to dozens of people, “Yes you can use words to communicate with me.” Our Mental Health program is currently transitioning to a program called “Next Wise Choice”, which sets an example for members that yes, they can live independently, even if they struggle with mental health. ACE, one of our day programs that operates out of Ames tells members that yes, you can be a part of this social movement as well.
One of the core values of Mainstream Living is innovation. Employees at all levels care deeply about our members and many have long-term relationships with members and their families. Looking at how far we’ve come in only fifty years can inspire us to create innovations that will make their lives better for decades to come. Let’s make the next fifty years even better. Say YES and be a part of the movement.