A Day in Athens at the Georgia Disability History Symposium

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On November 1st, I traveled from my home in Atlanta to the University of Georgia campus in Athens, where the Georgia Disability History Alliance was hosting their annual disability symposium. As the Social Media + PR Specialist for GCRC, I have the privilege of attending events like this and taking note of what I learn there so I can bring that knowledge back here and share it with you. If you’ve never been to a conference or day-long symposium, then you might not be aware that all too often they are little more than opportunities for people in positions of power to pat themselves on the back for what they see as a job well done, while those in more administrative or service roles wait and hope to gain something more than just a stomach full of tasteless, hotel chicken.

Lovely, right?

In my four years of working in human services, it has long since become clear that when people with disabilities are given the opportunity to speak for themselves and lead the way, we are all the better for it. And that is what I saw and experienced in Athens. As Dr. Beth Mount, one of the keynote speakers at the symposium, stated in her message, “Person-centered planning, which was once so pure, has become so clinical. These days, it is more about filling out paperwork than it is about working with the person to discover what drives them.”

In other words, when we lose the person, we lose everything.

In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to engage with and hear from a lively and passionate group of guests. The panel who sat for the Q+A session was intersectional at its best: a combination of various genders, races, ethnicities, religions, and abilities. Men and women from truly diverse backgrounds with widely varying perspectives who all stood for the most important things: representation, opportunity, and equality.

It is wonderful to hear from those who have worked so tirelessly in this field for decades, regardless of ability. But when I heard from the marginalized people who are most affected by our willingness (or lack thereof) to stand for and with them, it really struck hard at the deepest privilege within me, the place I sometimes still avoid because even though I work on staff with one of the most person-centered organizations in the state, some ableistic demons remain. It can be so easy to ignore those demons. But here is the crux of that truth: If it is easy for me, it is because I don’t have to confront them. I am not forced, day in and day out, to do battle with a society that still doesn’t see my true value. As an able-bodied, neurotypical person, I have a choice to not confront my privilege, a privilege that, by definition, is denied to many.

Parker Glick, the social media guru for Georgia’s Statewide Independent Living Council told symposium attendees that he is constantly asking the question, “Are you seeing this? If you are, how does it not matter to you?” This is the question we must be willing to ask—and answer honestly—for ourselves. Because when people with disabilities are spurned from employment opportunities, housing, intimate relationships, autonomy, and equality, it DOES matter. It DOES affect us, even if we don’t realize it.

A few weeks ago, I heard a woman I know only in passing declare that the Pride Parade in Atlanta was “taking equal rights too far.” Such a declaration is, in itself, a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing as taking equal rights too far. If every person’s rights have gone as far as they can, that is simply equality. Anything more, and one person has privilege while another doesn’t. That is the position we find ourselves in now. And that is the position that must change.

I am looking forward to continuing my work and partnering alongside people with disabilities. I am looking forward to being a part of the day equality has been taken as far as it can possibly go.

Are you?

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Weekly Wrap-Up//05

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It has been a hard few weeks, hasn’t it? Hurricanes Harvey and Irma inflicting catastrophic damage across Texas and the Caribbean, earthquakes devastating Mexico, and the horrific attack on Las Vegas which resulted in the loss of 59 lives. Sometimes it can feel like the world is too wrong and we are too weak to do anything about it.

But that is not true.

We are powerful beyond belief. We can do hard things and we can do good things. In fact, it’s when the darkness falls that the light shines brighter. So to end this sad, troublesome week, we are sharing some of the best news we found from across the web: stories of hope, stories of generosity, stories of humor and joy. Stories of humanity at its best, at its truest.

Celebrities Share Awkward Puberty Photos to Raise Money for Puerto Rico Relief and the World Seems Right Again for a Moment

Blood Donors Line Up for Vegas

Employment for People with Disabilities Getting Congressional Attention

A Twitter Love Story

Happy Friday!

 

Small Steps, Big Dreams

Supported employment is one of the most important supports that we offer at George Chambers. For those of you who don’t know what supported employment is, we created an award-winning video a few years ago about that very subject, which you can watch here. (There’s also an episode about it on our podcast!)

Supported employment helps give individuals with disabilities access to greater independence. One way this is achieved? A paycheck. And, today, we want to tell you about someone very special to us at George Chambers, a young woman with a very specific dream for her future…a dream that has now become a reality.

Her name is Chelsea Harris.

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Chelsea moved to Calhoun from Powder Springs and attended the SET program at Kennesaw State University. This program assists students with job skills in various areas, which proved beneficial for Chelsea when she set out to find employment. Her dream job, she said, was “Chick-Fil-A because it’s a Christian company with good morals. And I love eating there.”
(Who doesn’t, right?)
With a heart for serving others and a deep love for God, Chelsea soon snagged an interview with Chick-Fil-A and was hired. Last week, she began work as a host in the dining room, greeting patrons as they walk through the door and checking on them as they enjoy their meals.
Chelsea is one among many in supported employment programs across the country, and her story proves just how important these supports are. But more than anything, it proves that anyone, anywhere, can have a dream and see it come to life.
Cheers to you, Chelsea! And congratulations!

Our First Health Fair

Thank you so much to everyone who came out to our first (hopefully annual) health fair last Thursday! It was a great success and we couldn’t have done it without the hard work of everyone on our staff, especially Robin Williams, as well as the following vendors who took valuable time out of their day to participate:

Gordon Hospital

Ken Carson

After God’s Heart Ministry

Calhoun CNA School 

Tender Touch

Floyd EMS

Lunsford Agency

Calhoun Fire Department

Healing Hands

Floyd Medicine Center

Blood Assurance

Fitness First

Mother Nature’s Eden

We spent the morning giving tours of our facility and training center, connecting with students from Calhoun CNA school, enjoying conversation with all our vendors, doing giveaways, and maybe even getting a massage (or two) from Healing Hands Massage Therapy. We also received an incredibly generous donation from KVW Services, Inc. which will go towards the Bailey Building grocery store in our new training facility.

It was truly a wonderful event and we hope to see everyone (and more!) back in 2018!

A few photos:

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Weekly Wrap-Up//04

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Happy Friday! It’s our favorite time of the week again, and we’re back today to share some of the best links from around the web. These articles had us laughing, cheering, and nodding our heads like, “Yes, AMEN.” Grab yourself a coffee, sit back, and enjoy.

“Not special needs. Just human needs.”

Yes, we already shared this on our Facebook page, but we’re sharing it again because it’s JUST. THAT. GOOD.

Women Doing Work to Erase Disability Stigma

Because this will never NOT be awesome.

Medicaid Is Safe, For Now.

Don’t mind us. We’re just happy dancing over here.

Where A Kid Can Be A Kid

For every parent who has had to endure yet ANOTHER Chuck E. Cheese party, this just bumped them up a few cool points.

 

Weekly Wrap-Up // 03

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It’s that time again! Today, we’re sharing some of our favorite links from all around the web this week. Here’s hoping you enjoy them as much as we did.

Happy Friday!

Down Syndrome And The Stories We Tell

Stories matter. (You’re gonna need tissues for this one.)

Here’s What People With Disabilities Want You To Know

Listen up, y’all.

A Documentary Featuring Man With Autism Who Communicates Using Disney Characters Short-Listed For Academy Award

Well, it’s got OUR vote, anyway.

I Want To Set The Record Straight About Introverts

And all the ISTJ/ISFJ/INFJ/INTJ/ISTP/ISFP/INFP/INTPs said “AMEN.”

Pope Francis Encourages Moms To Breastfeed In The Sistine Chapel

Pope Francis: Doing The Lord’s Work.

Happy 2017!

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Now that what many viewed as a tumultuous 2016 has passed, we are looking to the new year with equal parts excitement and hope. It’s easy to get bogged down in what seems like the never-ending cycle of tragedy and loss, but there is always light in the darkness.

And how do we know that? Because we woke up this morning.

The sheer fact that you are alive today means that this moment has a purpose. Such an idea requires diligence and intentionality if it’s to be lived effectively—if we are to really embrace today for the gift that it is—and that can be a challenge. We rush from one thing to the next—checking tasks off our work, family, and social calendars—because in many ways it’s what we’re required to do. But how we schedule our lives determines how we live our lives.

Is it cliche to ask that in 2017 we learn how to live slowly? Perhaps.

But cliches ring true because they are rooted in truth.

Living slowly in 2017 is not asking you to stop being busy; it’s asking you to stop filling your lives with things that zap your energy, to stop saying yes to things when you should be saying no, and to cease the endless striving for more. There will always be tasks that require sacrifice and effort on our part, and they won’t always be enjoyable…but it’s time to ask ourselves: Are they beneficial? Are they useful? Are they meaningful? These are the things we want to spend our time doing in 2017.

There is important work to be done. There will always be important work to be done. But let’s get busy doing what matters, not running a race that doesn’t belong to us.

Cheers to you—and to all of us—this new year. May our days and our lives spark a new hope in our world.