Individuals with developmental disabilities often face unique barriers that can make it challenging to fully connect to their communities. In order to raise awareness, spark conversation and stimulate connection, Developmental Disabilities Month focuses on inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all aspects of community life, as well as the differing obstacles they encounter that can make daily tasks more difficult.
In addition to raising awareness and bridging connections, a major part of honoring Developmental Disabilities (DD) Month is commemorating those who serve the DD community. Among those individuals are the providers and professionals at Hammer Residences.
The Minnesota-based organization has been offering services, programs and housing to individuals with developmental disabilities for 98 years. Hammer currently has 35 staffed homes and nine apartment programs, providing residential services to nearly 300 people and customized case management to 1,300 individuals.
Bringing awareness and conversation to the developmental disability community is a part of Hammer’s mission all year round, not just in March – an effort frequently featured on their YouTube channel. Shining a spotlight on their residences is an important step in facilitating more societal inclusion and understanding.
Often times individuals without developmental disabilities don’t consider or understand all the necessary adaptations people with varying DDs need to make them feel more comfortable, confident and connected. This leads to gaps in inclusion in many areas of life such as employment, social events, community resources and even building architecture.
“People with disabilities aren’t always naturally included in communities and in our culture,” Chief Program Officer, Sue Walker, said. “Our lack of inclusion is often about innocent ignorance. We don’t mean to exclude people, but we often end up doing it.”
One of the largest and most notable barriers to community inclusion for individuals with developmental disabilities comes with employment. Our culture likes to preach that anyone with the proper skills can and should get the job they’re qualified for. However, Walker said it can be difficult for businesses to hire, sustain and support employees with disabilities due to financial and regulatory issues.
“This is another huge area we need to work on,” Walker said. “There are adaptations that typically need to be made for people with disabilities in the workforce. Far too often there aren’t enough opportunities for people with disabilities, and they don’t always feel certain roles are open to them.”
In order to create a more inclusive community, whether that be regarding employment, social experiences or available resources, open and consistent communication is paramount. Humans have an innate tendency to seek out people we feel comfortable with and have similar ways of interacting. When people appear, act or respond differently than us, people are inclined to feel uncomfortable or uncertain. Through honest and genuine conversations, we can work to better understand one another, despite the differing challenges or disabilities one may face.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s someone with a disability, someone of an ethic minority group, or someone within a special interest group, it’s about keeping that awareness at the forefront,” Walker said. “We have so many ways of communicating and offering support, so never letting up on that opportunity for dialogue is one of the most obvious and effective approaches to inclusion.”
A part of keeping that dialogue going is continuing to tell the incredible stories of those living with developmental disorders. Throughout their 98 years of practice, Hammer has cultivated a vast amount of client narratives demonstrating their success, growth and accomplishments. While these anecdotal stories are important to tell, having the numbers to back them up is just as beneficial.
“We always had a beautiful objective story to tell,” Information Systems Analytics Manager, Sean Henderson, said. “The data within our Netsmart solution backs up those stories, only further proving we are providing life-changing services. The ability to tell those stories in both numbers and words … it’s hard to put a price on something like that.”
Hammer uses the myEvolv electronic health record (EHR), which allows staff to document, communicate, track and assess health data at the point of care. The platform also empowers clinicians to sift through the data and documentation with a fine-tooth comb to ensure they are offering the most effective care and determine if clients’ goals are being attained.
“We can easily access and share information from any computer, at any site, which makes us so much more efficient,” Walker said. “We can easily run reports, where that used to take hours because we were running from site to site. myEvolv has made us more connected in our service delivery and communication.”
Using the data within myEvolv also helps the organization achieve funding grants and support from local and state government by proving services’ success and growth.
While Developmental Disabilities Month is coming to an end, that doesn’t mean the efforts, communication and collaboration should stop. If you’re interested in getting involved or learning more about developmental disabilities, Walker said a great first step is to volunteer. Simply spending time with individuals helps break down barriers while forming understanding relationships.
“Relationships are the most important thing,” Walker said. “That’s how we get to know each other, that’s how we appreciate and support each other in all facets of life. If you don’t know where to begin, start there.”
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