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Disability Community: Unfracture Yourself!

Posted by on May 15, 2014 - 1 Comment

On The Table Attendees

I was honored to to lay it all “On the Table” last week with Jack Catlin (Partner, LCM Architects and Executive Committee member of the Chicago Community Trust), Karen Tamley (Comissioner, Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities), Marca Bristo (CEO, Access Living), and Sheila Romano (Director, Illinois Council of Developmental Disabilities).  I’m not shy, as many of you know, so I put my idea on the table:  People touched by disability: unfracture yourselves!  Read on, then please post a comment:

Why were we laying it all out there?  The Chicago Community Trust is turning 99 years old this year.  CCT is one of the country’s largest municipal foundations giving millions of dollars in grants to Chicago social service agencies each year, and it asked thousands of Chicago community leaders from all areas of interest, to spend an evening generating new ideas.  The Trust wants something to think about – and maybe act upon – as it shapes its philanthropic agenda to “build strong, safe and dynamic communities.”

What ideas were put on the table by our group?  Well, frankly, a lot of the issues that the disability community discusses and grapples with everyday:  not enough funding to provide services, lack of accessibility, problems with educational services to students with disabiltiies, etc.

My idea?  People touched by disability: unfracture yourselves!  People with physical, developmental, intellectual and mental health disabilities must speak with one, unified voice. I believe this is the one way to truly tackle the above issues.

Yes, I know, I’ve heard it all before:  the specific needs of each disability are different and, therefore, we can’t speak for each other.  She can’t speak for me and I can’t speak for him, we can’t speak for them and they can’t speak for us.  And so we remain fractured.  And ineffective.  Let’s stop copping out with these excuses.  As long as the disabilitiy community remains fractured, advocating only out of self interest, government and businesses will have the power to continue to ignore us. It’s as simple as that.

When the Disability Awareness Players train businesses, we stand unified.  The wheelchair user, the college student with autism, the swim coach with Down syndrome, the self-advocate with Cerebral Palsy all speak for the disability community together.  And people listen.

When operates, we operate with a team of people with and without disabilities….all kinds of disabilities and abilities!

When Search’s No Boundaries participants come to work, they represent physical, developmental, intellectual and mental health disabilities.  Guess what?  We all train and work together.  The guy with a cognitive disability but great social communications skills helps the gal with autism who is working on social thinking.  The guy with autism helps the gal with an intellectual disability understand what she is reading.  The person with a disability helps the peer without a disability to figure out how to use a software program.

Yes, individual needs are different, but in the eyes of the world it should come down to this:  It doesn’t get better for one, if it doesn’t get better for all.

Disability Community: Unfracture Yourself! Chicago Community Trust, how about some funding to develop a unified voice of disability?  Watcha think?

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About The Author

JJ Hanley

This article was written by JJ Hanley, Associate Director of Ventures at Search, Inc. and Founder of is a digital marketing and community engagement social enterprise of Search, Inc. that helps businesses incorporate disability-aware marketing, customer service and employment best practices into core business strategies.


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1 Comment

connor magnuson says:
May 22, 2014

A very powerful and potent article! your right of course we are fractured into micro communities by the variety of challenges we carry with us. The problem is not that our perspectives and dispositions are too vastly different to grant one the right to speak for or of another as though they perfectly understand. Such a thing as a perfect understanding of where someone is coming from or going through isn’t possible. It is possible to relate or sympathize with anyone. we do this daily just by watching stories on tv, reading books the greatest tool people have for experiencing reality through a lens not their own are stories. so the fact that you all sat around sharing stories resonates with me .

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