Op-Ed: Olmstead and Community Re-Integration
By Jeffrey V. Perry, CPRP
The Importance of Home and Community
In 2009, the Civil Rights Division launched an aggressive effort to enforce the Supreme Court's decision in Olmstead v. L.C., a ruling that requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. President Obama issued a proclamation launching the "Year of Community Living," and has directed the Administration to redouble enforcement efforts. The Division has responded by working with state and local government officials, disability rights groups and attorneys around the country, along with representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services, to fashion an effective nationwide program to enforce the integration mandate of the Department's regulation implementing title II of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).
Just how beneficial is it for people with disabilities to return to the community in which they may have lived whether growing up, working nearby, or visiting relatives? What is the intrinsic social value? We have often heard the phrase, “You cannot go back home.” We live in a society in which individuals may return to familiar, or move into unfamiliar communities, seeking a place to call home. Despite the real estate crunch with its fluctuating rents, anyone evaluating a place to live needs to know something about the character of that particular neighborhood.
Reintegrating people with disabilities back into familiar areas is at least as important as our value of economic development or redevelopment in many cases. It is our personal connection to a place that influences our social-makeup, bearing on our behavioral and overall well-being.
Where one grew up is where they began, the place in consciousness we commonly call “home.” Home can be a nurturing and familiar place, as well as a traumatizing one. Somehow, still, we cling to our adverse experiences as if they were golden. Oftentimes, trauma is difficult to recognize, because we excuse those episodes since they represent our only valuation of “home.” But what are some of the values of returning to a familiar or biographic area? We might encounter friends, people, and places we have known before. We may rekindle old friendships and bond with former schoolmates. We will recall places that used to stand that might have fallen into disrepair or been replaced. And we will remember those who lived there and have passed on.
We share history with people, experiences, places and moments in time. No matter how traumatic or negative those memories, they mold our identity. It is this identity that drives us as human beings. Even our worst experiences, because they are familiar, we internalize as “home.” Returning to a familiar neighborhood and community may in many cases offer us a sense of safety and security, if only as a psychological effect. If you have ever been in a foreign country and someone comes up to you who speaks English, you almost feel that you have met your long lost brother. Psychologically speaking, we humans identify with what is familiar in our lives. Recalling these experiences, over time, and with therapeutic intervention, may lead us to healing, growth, progress and acceptance.
On the contrary, we may have outgrown our past, and what no longer serves us. Perhaps, we have grown unattached to our old neighborhood. Our memories, and past traumatic experiences are intimate, personal and familiar, and yet we may be naturally repelled from returning to a place. We can change our future by understanding that we do not need to return, unless for a moment of peacemaking. We can speak out to someone who will listen, reach out to our support system. Personal healing begins with understanding our past and facing our fears. It is equally important to have a good working support system that meets our medical, psychological and residential needs.
Community re-integration is always a new beginning that can best be successful when done on terms that respect a person from where they are, and meet the challenges they are open to, in order to thrive and create. Home is the place we deserve to feel safe, secure, and express ourselves freely. And, you don’t always have to “go back home” to start your life anew.
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Pullout: “Community re-integration is always a new beginning that can best be successful when done on terms that respect a person from where they are, and meet the challenges they are open to, in order to thrive and create.”