When I think about community, I think about belonging – whether people in the community want me and my friends to be here. Today, I truly belong in the community but that wasn’t always the case. In the eighties, my parents were told by the professionals that I would go to a “community.” We thought, “Great, what could be wrong with that?” When I took a quick look at this community it even looked like the community that you and I would live in today. However, this community had two things that most communities do not – a large rectangle in the middle of the community, and a large driveway down to the community. Also, all of my neighbors were people with disabilities. Does that sound like the community that you live in? It’s not the kind of community that I live in today.
This community made me feel like I didn’t belong to society. It made me feel like I wasn’t a part of the community. Because of my disability.
However, today, I do live in the community, and I am part of it. I belong to the community. I live in a regular apartment building, where there are other people with and without disabilities. When I see people around the building, or in the community, when I shop, people say “hi” to me or smile. They just don’t stare because I happen to have a disability. I use public transportation to get to work, because I don’t drive. Again, people, don’t stare because of my disability.
We are twenty years after the Olmstead decision, and why are we still talking about “gated communities or group homes?” A lot of people I know say, “people like to be with people of their own kind”, well, I think this is wrong and most of my friends would rather be with people with and with disabilities. Gated communities and group homes are just a nicer way to say an institution. People without disabilities need to be honest with me and my friends, “Do you REALLY want us to live as your neighbors? What’s so wrong with us, that you don’t?”
I think the community is for all people. It’s NOT for SOME. If the community is for ALL, then its NOT for just certain people. ALL means ALL!