The Missouri Community Advocacy Network (MoCAN) and a team of AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteers (Volunteers in Service to America) provide education and training on the importance of community inclusion for individuals with developmental disabilities. These teams provide education at 11 regional sites to the general public, service providers, and people with developmental disabilities and their supporters. The overall project goal is to empower individuals with disabilities to lead the way toward a better informed, more diverse, and inclusive society.
RESEARCH THE ISSUE BY GATHERING BACKGROUND AND LOCAL INFORMATION
The MoCAN project addresses three main issues that affect people with disabilities:
- Lack of public awareness about the ability of individuals with developmental disabilities to be productive members of society
- Lack of understanding among service providers about how to encourage choice among individuals with disabilities
- Inability of some individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves and make self-directed choices.
These three issues are usually well supported by people within the disability community and by the general public once they have an understanding of the importance of the issue. While addressing these issues in the community, MoCAN sometimes battles long-held ideas, myths, a lack of understanding, negative stereotypes, and the desire to “take care of” people with disabilities. There isn’t direct opposition to specific issues, just a lack of awareness that these issues even exist.
Those directly affected by these often inter-related issues include people with disabilities, family members, and service providers. Factors that contribute to the lack of awareness and understanding can include personal characteristics, past experiences, incorrect information, or a lack of knowledge. The negative consequences for people with disabilities can be significant if they are not given the same opportunities to pursue social, recreational, employment or other interests as other members of society. Over the past several years, local groups have been working together to promote community inclusion for people with developmental disabilities.
STATE THE BROAD GOALS OF THE ADVOCACY CAMPAIGN.
MoCAN’s main goal is to make Missouri communities more inclusive of people with developmental disabilities.
The main objectives of the advocacy campaign include the following:
- Increase public awareness about disability issues and the desires and supports needed for individuals to lead meaningful lives in the community
- Increase ability of service providers to support and encourage self-determination among individuals with disabilities
- Increase ability of individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves and understand self-determination.
STATE THE ADVOCACY TACTICS TO BE USED, INCLUDING THESE BROADER STRATEGIES.
Education and encouragement
Volunteers and others involved in the project will receive extensive training and education throughout the project. There will be opportunity for encouragement and feedback at various meetings and events during the project period. The regional centers supported by the Missouri Department of Mental Health –Division of MR/DD provide day-to-day support and encouragement to VISTA.
Direct action campaign
The direct action campaign will consist of the education and training events provided by the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, and team members. These events will include presentations to community groups such as schools, churches, business, and other community organizations to raise awareness about disabilities. Training events for service providers and people with developmental disabilities also are part of the direct action campaign.
Media advocacy will be used to promote the project, especially the link to the AmeriCorps VISTA program whenever possible. Personal stories are being promoted in print as the best use of media advocacy.
IDENTIFY RESOURCES AND ASSETS TO BE USED
The AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program provides primary funding to the project, technical assistance, and training for VISTA and supervisors. The program uses a total of 54 VISTA volunteers in 11 regional centers. In each center, teams consisting of VISTA volunteers, family members, and individuals with disabilities provide community training. The following partner organizations provide additional funding and support:
- The UMKC Institute for Human Development provides administrative support and statewide coordination of the MoCAN project.
- The Missouri Department of Mental Health supports the 11 regional centers that serve as the framework for the project. These regional centers provide mentorship, support local advisory teams, and provide day-to-day support and guidance to MoCAN VISTA.
- The Missouri Planning Council for Developmental Disabilities provides transportation funding for presentations to educate the community and other activities of the VISTA.
IDENTIFY POTENCIAL ALLIES
The previously listed partner organizations ally for the project. Each organization brings an asset that contributes to project success. Additional allies are members of the local advisory team, which could include regional council members, parents, policy partners, resource specialists, family members, local chamber of commerce members, or the special education director. Other potential allies include disability organizations, parent support groups, school systems, recreation departments, therapists and various health care providers, or additional community service organizations.
IDENTIFY AND COUNTERACT OPPOSITION
The project could not identify any apparent opposition to the advocacy effort. Community awareness trainings are purposely presented in a positive light to counteract personal internal opposition that might arise. Information and positive examples of inclusion counteract opposition relating to personal attitude and stereotypes.
DESCRIBE THE EVALUATION OF THE ADVOCAY CAMPAIGN
Initial measures of success were the number of presentations and trainings conducted and their attendance counts. Another measure of success could be the number of people who are aware of the campaign’s message. The population-level indicator of success for community inclusion would be to what extent individuals with disabilities have been more included in their communities.
DEVELOP AN ACTION PLAN FOR IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ADVOCACY EFFORT
The primary action of the advocacy effort is education and training. It is the function of the team, which is made up of an AmeriCorps VISTA, a person with a disability, and a family member of a person with a disability, to make presentations to community groups. Teams also provide training to service providers and individuals with developmental disabilities. VISTA also works to support individuals with developmental disabilities by providing individualized one-on-one education and training. Local advisory teams at each of the 11 sites help assign activities to VISTA and discuss future presentations. MoCAN mentors also support VISTA to reach their goals and provide whatever support is needed. Grant funds and partner organizations provide the foundation to under gird all activities.