Diversity doesn’t just relate to race, gender or religion, it also includes people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but people with I/DD tend to be the last ones embraced when it comes to creating an inclusive community.
“People with I/DD can make valuable contributions if given a chance,” said Gayann Brandenburg at the first of four Community Counts! Diversity and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities seminars created by CTAT, LLC, in conjunction with the City and County of Denver to encourage inclusion for people with I/DD.
“People with I/DD are associated with negative stereotypes and that leads to disrespect, harassment, bullying and sometimes even injuries,” said Brandenburg, a founding member of CTAT. “The more aware and educated we are the more advocates we have for including individuals with I/DD. We all have implicit biases, so we need to exam our beliefs and actions.”
Panelist Chris Patton added, “You can be different but equal. We should still be treated the same.”
More than 37.5% of the world’s population have disabilities and 2.6% have an intellectual disability – 200 million people -- according to the World Health Organization, and helping this community thrive also benefits society.
Patton, who writes poetry, said he feels included when he attends poetry slams.
“We are just artists hanging out,” he said. “The artist scene is pretty much very forward on inclusion. I’m happy to be heard in public.”
Jocelyn Roy is an artist and works at Access Gallery in the Santa Fe Art District in Denver. The nonprofit gallery creates economic opportunities for young people with disabilities.
“It feels like I’m with my peeps,” Roy said about the Access Gallery environment. “It feels like home. My mentor, Amy, is like a family member. She has known me since I was 17.”
Dennis Carbrey is an actor and was slated to be in “Take The High Road” presented by Magic Moments in Englewood before the coronavirus canceled the March program.
“I just love music and singing,” said Carbrey, who also works at Little Caesars and Taco Bell.
In the past, I/DD community members were put in institutions and were separated from their families, leading to abuse, sterilization and numerous stereotypes.
“These were ‘special people who needed special care,’” Brandenburg explained. “It was good intentions, gone bad. The more segregated a class of people the more they are seen as less valued. Insight allows us to learn from the past. Now we are eliminating barriers, listening to their needs and valuing them for their contributions.”
One way to halt some of the stereotypes is to get rid of “special programs” Brandenburg said, citing a church that had a “special baptism” for people with autism. “Stop making it weird,” she said. “There was no reason to have a special baptism. This just adds to the stereotype.”
Panelist Alan Staude said he didn’t know where to start when asked about a time he did not feel included. “I used to be in child services, foster homes, and they didn’t see me as an individual,” he explained. “I wasn’t a valued member of their family. I was out there in the shadows. It made me upset, angry, aggravated.”
Some ways to break down barriers include the basics -- fair wages, affordable housing, access to transportation – along with including everyone in events, listening to people because they have different experiences, using respectful language, thinking of each person as an individual and not forcing our choices on people with I/DD.
“I’m well included in all activities,” said Staude, who works at Home Depot. “It’s a nice close-knit family. They have an open-door policy. I can go to my HR representative, and we can find a means to solve a problem. And I know that we are all different individuals but I know that they always have my back. It makes me feel that it’s a place I want to work at for 30, 40, 50 years from now. Some places I worked before the higher-ups didn’t see us as individuals. We were just a workforce.”
Some business owners don’t realize the buying power of people with disabilities and their lack of inclusion hurts not only the business but the community.
“Combined there is $490 billion in buying power in the disabled community,” Brandenburg said. “People with disabilities make valuable contributions to our community, including the economy.”
However, some places Patton feels the most awkward are cafes and restaurants, and stores.
“When we go into a shop, they just want to put me in a corner. They don’t realize they are not being inclusive,” Patton said. “Sometimes it sucks to have to go out in public because people aren’t very good to me. People who don’t understand what is wrong with me jeer at me and just make fun of me or stare at me. I don’t have a steady hand and I cannot hold on to just anything like other people can. I rock back and forth too much.”
“We are avoided, picked on and devalued,” Carbrey added. “When we feel valued we are inclined to participate more.”
Dennis Cabrey is an actor and works at Taco Bell and Little Caesars.Roy’s voice doesn’t fit her vibrant, mature personality, and she said it gets in the way of people showing her respect.
“I feel like everything about me is developed except my voice didn’t grow up with me,” she said. “I still get teased and I get looks all the time. They think I’m more like a child because of my voice.”
Including people with I/DD into your events, businesses, groups, boards and faith communities benefits all involved by educating those without a disability and empowering those who have disabilities.
“My supervisor said, ‘We all have a disability,’” Staude explained. “People need to learn not to be so biased in who we are. Don’t look at us as if we are I/DD, look at us as human beings, as individuals. We can all learn from our past mistakes. Let the past be the past. Learn and grow as a people.”
Roy added, “Treat people with respect. We are all human beings; we come in different colors, sizes, shapes. We can all work together.”
“Ask and be nice,” Patton said. “Train your staff to be better with people with I/DD and to treat everyone equally. I’m a good person. I don’t want people to be afraid of me. We can all be great friends. We are all the same in our hearts. And we have a lot to give that you don’t have.”
Here is the graphic recording – your visual summary – of the Diversity session:
Graphic Recording by Sue Fody (www.suefody.com)
Upcoming Courses via Zoom from 10-11:30 a.m. Mountain Time
By Eliza Marie Somers