Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Connecticut: Southbury Training School seen by inclusion advocate in a new light

Micaela Connery is an inclusion advocate and a Master in Public Policy Candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School focusing on disability, inclusion, and community development. She writes for the Huffington Post and has written many interesting articles on disability issues.

In a recent article, she writes about her visit to the Southbury Training School in Southbury, Connecticut. Her experience of Southbury was nothing like what she expected. She warns other inclusion advocates not to “freak out”. After seeing the facility for herself, she reveals that “it wasn’t horrible!”

The Southbury Training School is an Intermediate Care Facility and home to around 300 people with severe to profound intellectual and other disabilities. It is, in fact, an institution, but the families of the residents do not like the way that term is used as a perjorative.  The families express how they feel about it on their Website: “STS is not an Institution - It’s a Solution”, referring to the many ways that the resources at Southbury could be expanded and shared with the community for others with disabilities and used as a model of caring for people who are the most difficult to serve appropriately.

Here are excerpts from Micaela Connery’s Huffington Post article:


Disability Housing: Institutional Avoidance
by Micaela Connery
July 22, 2015

You can't live in Connecticut and work on anything related to disability services and not know about Southbury Training School. While addressing the concerns of a lack of affordable and adequate housing for people with disabilities across the state, Southbury has been the topic of numerous discussions (and disagreement). Yet, I was struck by how few policymakers, advocates, parents, and individuals (almost none) had actually visited the grounds. So, I decided to take a trip.

I didn't know what to expect. …When you meet older individuals who work in disability services, they often refer to a period (almost a turning-point) of deinstitutionalization. But few acknowledge this period of deinstitutionalization is a period we're still in the thick of. Institutions aren't a failure of the past, they're a reality of the present.

... I wasn't expecting to encounter a music class, a dental clinic, or an accessible fitness facility. I wasn't expecting staff who had been there for thirty years and who could recall journeying with residents (or "clients") through all the phases of their life from moving in, sharing grief in the loss of loved ones, to the challenges of aging. I wasn't expecting rolling hills or a remarkable indoor mural painted by a doctor who works in the facility during his free time. I wasn't expecting to meet residents who seemed quite happy in their daily life. I wasn't expecting photos on the walls and paintings done by residents lining the corridors.

... my whole understanding of the idea of "institutional" was defined by bad things not to do. My perception was based on this idea of avoiding being institutional. It was about the "de" in deinstitutionalization. It was all about what we needed to remove.

…Based on the avoidance principal, Southbury seems to have achieved much of the "de" in deinstitutionalization. And, it wasn't all that different from other group homes or residences for people with disabilities I've visited in my life. Yes, something about Southbury didn't feel right to me, but it also didn't have the features that I knew to be wrong.

...Perhaps where we're missing the boat is that we've spent so much time preoccupied with deinstitutionalization that we've failed to focus (or even hone in) on what it means to create communities, build life-giving places to live and thrive, and what we can add to the life of someone with a disability to make it a happy one…

…We know what we don't want to do. But, do we know what we do want to do? We mostly understand the process of deinstitutionalization. Now we need to figure out the nuances of true community creation.

Read the full article here...

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