Community Access is the common term used in the disability sector when people with disability go ‘into’ the community. Unfortunately there is a tendency to label things for people with disability and make it into something ‘special’ or different from the norm. If people without disability go shopping, to the bank or for a walk in the park, they don’t talk about having community access. These activities are simply a natural part of their everyday lives.
At Bespoke Lifestyles, we believe that rather than talking about ‘accessing’ the community and going ‘into’ the community, it would be more beneficial for people to explore how best to ‘engage’ with the community.
Community is made up of people, places and events. Even though for most people to have a satisfying and happy life, the people component is the most important ingredient, for many people with disabilities, enduring and unpaid relationships can be the ingredient that is missing! Just venturing ‘into’ the community is not enough for any of us to have a sense of belonging. We need to foster connections with people in the various places that are a part of our daily lives.
I liken community access to going on a holiday to a new place. You may spend your days sightseeing – visiting numerous sites of interest and attending events with a lot of other people. Your days are interesting and fun but sometimes exhausting and you come back to your hotel room alone or with your travel companion/s at the end of the day. You rarely make connections with other people, especially the locals, because you are only visiting and you do not keep returning to the same places.
It is even more difficult if you do not speak the same language. If there is difficultly with communication, it is rare that you are able to connect with the locals other than on a really superficial level. If you have a tour guide you are even less likely to connect with other people because the tour guide talks for you and makes all the arrangements. You will tend only to talk with the other people in your tour group.
However, if you had the opportunity to stay longer within a new community and you were able to learn the language (or they were able to speak yours), you would start to develop connections with people. It would also be more likely that you would develop a valued role within that community and a sense of belonging.
Just being in places or attending events is not enough to form relationships with people. Being in the same places on a regular basis so that you become known to the same people, gives you a far better chance for developing relationships and becoming a part of the community than venturing on a variety of excursions ‘into’ the community.
*Written by Dianne Mandeville