Earlier this month while our nation was celebrating its independence from British rule in 1776, I couldn’t help but think of our modern day pursuit to create catalysts for independence for the people with disabilities we support.
Many of our ancestors paid a high price for freedom from oppression. And many of the people we support have experienced extreme hardship and setbacks in their battle to live a meaningful life of their choosing.
There is no question supports and funding for people with disabilities have come a very long way in the past 50 years. But admittedly there is still much to be accomplished.
I have been very fortunate to travel overseas on numerous occasions and those trips have provided me a unique perspective for comparing and contrasting the way people with disabilities are supported and valued at both at home and abroad.
At Penn-Mar we advocate in Annapolis (MD) and Harrisburg (PA.) for the appropriate financial resources to support our mission. We do so aggressively and unapologetically because the proper resourcing of supports for people with disabilities is a core function of our state and federal governments. This advocacy directly affects those we support as well as our team members. Often, we walk away disappointed.
But there are still many countries that offer little or no financial support to organizations such as ours. People with disabilities live in the shadows and their lives are often cut off from the mainstream of the cultures in which they live.
That is why I make it a point to move forward in our work with an attitude of gratitude, acknowledging how fortunate we are to have ongoing support and open dialogue with our political leaders in an effort to enhance and innovate our services.
Do we still have a long way to go? You bet. But government alone cannot be the answer to all of our problems and it never will be. Government has to be one of numerous partners to make the future better.
It’s up to all of us to take the better path — like the passionate men and women pioneers of the disability movement in the 1970s — to continually ignite change with innovative thinking, creative financing and reimagined business models.
Speaking of pioneers, John Getty was one of the first of three men who moved into his new home at Penn-Mar in 1981. John is still thriving today in his 80s. Can you imagine the unbelievable changes John has experienced in his care and lifestyle since that time?
Fifty years from now when critics look at some of our past practices at Penn-Mar I expect some will say, “I wonder what the team at Penn-Mar was thinking back in 2019…?”
Imagine how different the future lives of people with disabilities will be when you factor in driverless cars, medical and scientific breakthroughs and the many communication advancements that technology will provide. It’s amazing to think about what the future holds.
Our responsibility in the here and now, if we are to remain true to our mission of Transforming life into living, is to leverage the best practices and resources that exist today with an eye toward innovation in the future. As our culture continues to evolve my hope is we always ensure that every person we support is offered the opportunity to live the life of their choosing, exposed to relationships and experiences that will allow them to make informed choices of how that life should be.
What I do know for certain today is that true independence never comes easy and there will never be a substitute for good relationships. True freedom never comes without a cost and we can never stop fighting for it. Still, we should always remain grateful for the freedoms that emerge from the struggle.