Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Art of Disability

“Disability is not a ‘brave struggle’ or ‘courage in the face of adversity’. Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”
Neil Marcus – a poet, humorist, writer, actor, and adventurer who is “creatively endowed with disability”

This quote was shared at a presentation I attended this past summer. It immediately brought up memories of a play that has always bothered me since I first saw it when Erin was in high school - "The Boys Next Door" by Tom Griffin. The story is about four men who live together and have cognitive and developmental disabilities. It does not paint a pretty picture of living with disabilities.

At a pivotal point in the play, one of the men shares a very sad monologue. “I stand before you, a middle-aged man in an uncomfortable suit, a man whose capacity for rational thought is somewhere between a five-year-old and an oyster. (Pause) I am retarded. I am damaged. I am sick inside from so many years of confusion, utter and profound confusion. I am mystified by faucets and radios and elevators and newspapers and popular songs. I cannot always remember the names of my parents. But I will not go away. And I will not wither because the cage is too small. I am here to remind the species of the species. I am Lucien Percival Smith. And without me, without my shattered crippled brain, you will never again be frightened by what you might have become. Or indeed by what your future might make you.”

Unfortunately this description of disability is the perception of many people, not just the playwright. To counter-act this perception, we go overboard trying to show the "super stars" with disabilities. We talk about those extraordinary individuals who have overcome their deficiencies; have worked hard to become more "normal."

Neil's quote is about valuing all people with disabilities; looking at differences and not perceived deficiencies; discovering and celebrating the gifts in each of us.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

What We Need Is Each Other

No matter how hard they try, our very best institutions cannot do many things that only we can do.
by John McKnight, posted Aug 05, 2009 on Creative Commons

There is a new worldwide movement developing, made up of people with a different vision for their local communities. They know that movements are not organizations, institutions or systems. Movements have no CEO, central office, or plan. Instead, they happen when thousands and thousands of people discover together new possibilities for their lives. They have a calling. They are called. And together they call upon themselves.

In many nations local people have been called to come together to pursue a common calling. It would be a mistake to label that calling ABCD, or Community Building. Those are just names. They are inadequate words for groups of local people who have the courage to discover their own way—to create a culture made by their own vision. It is a handmade, homemade vision. And, wherever we look, it is a culture that starts the same way:

First, we see what we have—individually, as neighbors and in this place of ours.

Second, we know that the power of what we have grows from creating new connections and relationships among and between what we have.

Third, we know that these connections happen when we individually or collectively act to make the connections—they don't just happen by themselves.

We also know that these three steps leading our way can often be blocked by great corporate, governmental, professional and academic institutions. They often say to us, "You are inadequate, incompetent, problematic, or broken. We will fix you."

It is our calling to ignore these voices that create dependency, for we are called to find our way—not follow their way.

We are striving to live in a democracy. A democracy is a politics that gives us the freedom to create our vision and the power to make that vision come true. We strive to be citizens—people with the vision and the power to create our own way, a culture of community capacity, connection and care.

Unfortunately, many leaders and even some neighbors think that the idea of a strong local community is sort of "nice," a good thing if you have the spare time, but not really important, vital or necessary. However, we know strong communities are vital and productive. But, above all, they are necessary because of the inherent limits of all institutions.

No matter how hard they try, our very best institutions cannot do many things that only we can do. And what only we can do is vital to a decent, good, democratic life.

People in the new movement know what only we have the power to do as local neighbors and citizens.

First, our neighborhoods are the primary source of our health. How long we live and how often we are sick are determined by our personal behaviors, our social relationships, our physical environment, and our income. As neighbors, we are the people who can change these things. Medical systems and doctors cannot. This is why scientists agree that medical care counts for less than 10 percent of what will allow us to be healthy. Indeed, most informed medical leaders advocate for community health initiatives because they recognize their systems have reached the limits of their health-giving power.

Second, whether we are safe and secure in our neighborhood is largely within our domain. Many studies show that there are two major determinants of our local safety. One is how many neighbors we know by name. The second is how often we are present and associated in public, outside our houses. Police activity is a minor protection compared to these two community actions. This is why most informed police leaders advocate for block watch and community policing. They know their limits and call to our movement.

Third, the future of our Earth—the environment—is a major local responsibility. The "energy problem" is our local domain because how we transport ourselves, how we heat and light our homes and how much waste we create is a major force factor in saving our earth. That is why our movement is a major force in calling us and our neighbors to be citizens of the Earth and not just consumers of the natural wealth.

Fourth, in our villages and neighborhoods, we have the power to build a resilient economy—less dependent on the mega-systems of finance and production that have proven to be so unreliable. Most enterprise begins locally, in garages, basements, and dining rooms. As neighbors, we have the local power to nurture and support these businesses so that they have a viable market. And we have the local power to capture our own savings so that we are not captives of our notorious large financial institutions. We also are the most reliable sources of jobs, for in many nations word-of-mouth among neighbors is still the most important access to employment. The future of our economic security is now clearly a responsibility, possibility and necessity for local people.

Fifth, we are coming to see that a part of our domain is the production of the food we eat. So we are allied with the local food movement, supporting local producers and markets. In this way, we will be doing our part to solve the energy problem caused by transportation of food from continents far away. We will be doing our part to solve our economic problems by circulating our dollars locally. And we will be improving our health by eating food free of poisons and petroleum.

Sixth, we are local people who must raise our children. We all say that it takes a village to raise a child. And yet, in modernized societies, this is rarely true. Instead, we pay systems to raise our children—teachers, counselors, coaches, youth workers, nutritionists, doctors, McDonald's, and MTV. We are often reduced as families to being responsible for paying others to raise our children and transporting them to their paid child-raisers. Our villages have often become useless—our neighbors responsible for neither their children nor ours. As a result, everywhere we talk about the local "youth problem." There is no "youth problem." There is a village problem of adults who have forgone their responsibility and capacity to join their neighbors in sharing the wealth of children. It is our greatest challenge and our most hopeful possibility.

Seventh, locally we are the site of care. Our institutions can only offer service—not care. We cannot purchase care. Care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another. As neighbors, we care for each other. We care for our children. We care for our elders. And it is this care that is the basic power of a community of citizens. Care cannot be provided, managed or purchased from systems. Our way is made possible by the power to care. Democracy is the way we care for our freedom and responsibility. So it is the new connections and relationships we create locally that build community because in joining each other together, we manifest our care for the children, neighbors and the earth.

Health, safety, economy, environment, food, children and care are the seven responsibilities of our movement. They are the necessities that only we can fulfill. And when we fail, no institution or government can succeed. Because we are the veritable foundation of the society.

Fortunately, at the heart of our movement are three universal and abundant powers. The three basics of our calling are:

The giving of gifts—the gifts of the people in our neighborhood are boundless. Our movement calls forth those gifts.

Second, the power of association—In association we join our gifts together and they become amplified, magnified, productive, and celebrated.

Third, hospitality—We welcome strangers because we value their gifts and need to share our own. Our doors are open. There are no strangers here. Just friends we haven't met.

Ours is the movement of abundance. There is no limit to our gifts, our associations, and our hospitality.

We have a calling. We are the people who know what we need. What we need surrounds us. What we need is each other. And when we act together, we will find Our Way. The citizen's way. The community way. The democratic way.

We are called to nothing less. And it is not so wild a dream.
John McKnight is a professor at Northwestern University, where he is Co-Director of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and Director of Community Studies of the Institute for Policy Research. He delivered this address to the Coady International Institute in Nova Scotia.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Social Justice Guided Mary Travers

I think the thing that is so special about folk music is that it is a reaffirmation of the celebration of the human spirit and human life.- Mary Travers

September 17, 2009 - Mary Travers became a singer at a time when there was no shortage of things to sing about.

Along with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, Travers participated in civil rights marches and Vietnam War protests. They helped provide a soundtrack to the times that catapulted Peter, Paul and Mary from coffee houses to the Billboard charts.

Travers, who died Wednesday at 72, was raised on folk music. She grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1940s where she heard her parent's recordings of The Weavers and Pete Seeger.

In a 1983 NPR interview, Travers explained how Peter, Paul and Mary tried to move the folk tradition forward.

"When we first began to sing together, we attempted to do some of the chestnuts. But to attempt to do them in a more complex and more musical form as opposed to just trying to take a straight three-part harmony and a lot of gusto and energy," she said.

The group had 12 hit singles. One of them, "If I Had A Hammer," became an anthem for the civil rights movement.

Another, "Puff the Magic Dragon," became an anthem of a different sort.

Peter, Paul and Mary put a Bob Dylan song on the charts for the first time and introduced the work of other new folk singers and songwriters — like John Denver, whose "Leaving on a Jet Plane" became a hit when the group released it.

The trio broke up in 1970 but got back together eight years later. Peter Yarrow told NPR why in 1983.

"When we got together and we sang on stage, it was very clear that we had great meaning to each other for the audience and that we missed each other," he said.

This time they were singing about apartheid and deadly violence in Central America.

In 1986, Travers said the principle of mixing social justice with music guided her career.

"I think the thing that is so special about folk music is that it is a reaffirmation of the celebration of the human spirit and human life," she said.

Travers was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, but Peter, Paul and Mary continued to perform off and on until earlier this year.

by Felix Contreras from NPR

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hopefully the conversation will continue...

Notes from Do Diverse Worlds Connect @Otterbein College

Some opening thoughts…

Individualism: Perspective of dominant micro culture in the US – European Americans (Families, Professionals, and Exceptionality by Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, and Soodak)
• Values Independence
• Values Competition
• System Centered Approach – laws and government

Collectivism: Perspective of diverse racial ethnic micro cultures in the US (Families, Professionals, and Exceptionality by Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, and Soodak)
• Values Interdependence – contributions of/to/with the group
• Relationship Centered Approach
• Robert Two Crow on the wall at the National Museum of the American Indian in DC “The Lakota Universe can be described as Mitakuye Oyasin. That means everything is connected, interrelated, and dependent in order to exist.”

Shared words from Candee Basford
“…Envisioning higher education as a place of transformational learning and deep social change that requires the full participation of citizens with diverse experiences and ways of knowing and an equal appreciation for each person’s contribution."

Thomas Ahrens: Representing Gateway Program and International Studies
• Broad international spectrum is represented at Otterbein
• More emphasis in education for global learning
• More schools are sending students abroad
• He feels that Otterbein is welcoming and inclusive, but we need to hear the student perspective
• Would like to see more intentionality for spaces and events to welcome students to come together

Leah Monaghan: Representing Disability Services
• Students are required to qualify for college entrance and can only receive accommodations and other services with documentation
• Increase in students with disabilities over the years especially with learning disabilities and some mental disorders and also serve those with visual, hearing, and some physical and medical issues
• She does feel that more students are crossing barriers, but would also like to hear the perspectives of students, however, most students with disabilities are less likely to identify themselves as being disabled first

Marsha Robinson: Representing Black Studies
• Many people of African descent have difficulty accessing libraries
• Libraries can be a political treasure or a political issue
• Has personally not felt welcome in some libraries – lack of materials – but Otterbein does seem to have more and is more welcoming
• Would like to increase inclusiveness of Otterbein College, but some students do not want to become one human family
• Would like to see film nights offered by the library/college
• Would also suggest soapbox – space/opportunity for students to speak

Suzanne Ashworth: Representing GLBTQ
• Uneven pockets on campus
• Still grouping especially in campus center
• Some are more welcoming and inclusive but tensions still exist (graffiti, swastikas, backlash to Vagina Monologues) which reflects attitudes prevalent in Ohio
• Agree that we need some intentionality – a truly diverse advisory group
• Need to hear from the students
• Curriculum expanded to add courses with GLBTQ focus and identify as such

Lisa Patterson Phillips: Representing Office of Diversity
• Originally began with a more ethnic focus, but now broader to look at all diversity
• What is diversity in 2009?
• Easier to find differences, but we need to find points where we connect
• Worlds connect at Otterbein at a superficial level – like bubbles bumping we touch but don’t really get to know each other and have those uncomfortable conversations – we are “nice”
• We need to start those conversations

Shannon Lakanen: Representing Women’s Studies
• Classes are rarely diverse – preaching to the choir
• Otterbein is welcoming within the limitations
• Inclusiveness needs to be embedded in the curriculum
• Need to hear student voices

Feedback from the small group discussions:

SURPRISES from what the panel members shared…
• Students present were surprised at how positive the faculty panel members were about the welcoming of diversity at Otterbein. Students are less positive and do not feel that most students are accepting. Concerns about grouping in the Campus Center was mentioned often by students. Students coming from small towns often think the campus is diverse and welcoming. The higher you go in your major, the more you are around the same people. Commuter students “fall thru the cracks.”
• Thinking of library as a source of power
• Backlash to Vagina Monologues being advertised and shown on campus and other incidents

• We will learn to get along – more so, we will discover and appreciate each other
• There will be more diversity in the classrooms
• Challenge is good
• Getting out of our safety zone
• The power of students teaching students; faculty learning from students
• We will intentionally create spaces where all feel welcome to share and interact
• This vision will be integrated into the curriculum and supported through instruction
• Celebrating diversity – welcoming diverse community members to join with us in our celebration; all of us sharing gifts and customs

• Personal Reflection – How do I handle various situations?
• More possibilities and opportunities shared and encouraged in freshmen classes/first year experience
• Infusion in curriculum and classes
• Classmate invitations to participate
• Including/inviting commuters in conversations and activities
• Embedded representations in classes
• Working with Otterbein’s Center for Community Engagement
• Infusion in service learning discussions; remembering to value all and not create helpers and helpees who never get to change roles
• Bringing community in
• Intentional dialogues
• Sharing/modeling skills to help with challenging conversations
• Opportunities to share/learn about customs, foods, music, ideas, struggles, dreams
• Seeking CONNECTORS from students and adults in our community

John McKnight:
1. Gift centered (looking for the gifts/assets in each person)
2. Well connected and has been part of the community for a long time
3. Trusted
4. Believes community is welcoming (seeing glass as half full)
• This is about CONNECTING rather than leadership. A good connector is not necessarily a leader.
• A good connector is born and cannot be trained.
• Thinking as a “server” can be limiting and focused on benevolence which is different from thinking as a “connector.”

A final question to ponder…
Colleges are innately exclusive places – tests to take in order to apply with limited accommodations for some labeled groups; standardized intellectual levels to qualify; applications to complete; other requirements depending on the institution; acceptance or rejection; competition to get in and stay in; financial issues to attend, etc.
Can an exclusive place be inclusive?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Do Diverse Worlds Connect @ Otterbein College

Monday, May 18
2:00 - 3:30 pm
Courtright Memorial Library
138 W. Main St., Westerville, Ohio

Join us for a discussion on diversity, making connections, and community building at Otterbein College. Panel members will represent the areas of Women Studies, Black Studies, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered & Queer (GLBTQ), International Education, Disability, and Diversity.
We need to hear your voices on these important issues!

An Erin McKenzie Virtual Welcoming Space Event, Sponsored by the Friends of the Otterbein College Courtright Memorial Library. All are welcome to attend at no charge. Refreshments will be served. For more information contact Lois Szudy, Library Director at

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reflections of Erin


Reflections of Erin - The Importance of Belonging, Relationships, and Learning with Each Other

By Barbara McKenzie, Design by Chris McKenzie, Art of Possibility Press, 2008

Conveyed in the form of keen observations, heartfelt surprises, and insightful reflections, the stories and images inspired by Erin McKenzie’s life demonstrate the rich connections and relationships that result from an inclusive learning community.

“The book is truly wonderful. It leads us ahead while looking back.” – John McKnight, CoDirector, Asset Based Community Development Institute, Northwestern University

“This book is not only a wonderful legacy of Erin's amazing impact on others, but will serve to challenge and inspire so many people who just don't seem to understand the power and value of true inclusion and community.” – Michael Giangreco, University of Vermont, Center on Disability & Community Inclusion

"In her short life, Erin was able to show us more about what is possible than all the research in the field. Every apprehensive educator or parent needs to have this book in hand." – Norman Kunc and Emma Van der Klift, authors of A Credo for Support

When the inclusive education movement began several years ago, many used the argument that it was purely for social benefits. The curriculum used for children with disabilities that were placed in general education classrooms was often very different from what was being taught in those classrooms. Slowly the movement began to stress the importance of accessing the curriculum and making accommodations, modifications, or enhancements as needed so that ALL students could learn together.

In recent years the focus has been on academic standards and identifying deficits, which has often led to more sorting, pull-out, and remediation for a variety of students, including those with disabilities, rather than inclusive classrooms and schools. The importance of discovering the gifts of each person, developing relationships, and embracing our interdependence are often not considered as valid in evidence-based research and standards, curriculum development, or instructional practices.

Barbara McKenzie hopes to shift the focus back to creating inclusive learning communities by sharing evidence that she and others have gathered from the experience of knowing and loving Erin. Conveyed in the form of keen observations, heartfelt surprises, and insightful reflections, the stories and images inspired by Erin McKenzie’s life demonstrate the rich connections and relationships that result from an inclusive learning community.

Learn more about the book at Art of Possibility Press
To order at the special price of $15.00 (quantity discounts available)
email the author at

Monday, March 23, 2009

Visit Candee Basford's web page

Please consider going to Candee Basford's web page at . While you are there make sure you check out her blog. As she says on her web page: "Feel free to browse the art, writing and ideas found here...."