As I wrote in my previous post, I attended the 23rd annual ASPE Conference in Arlington, Virginia from Wednesday, June 27 through Friday, June 29th. ASPE is the only national organization that exclusively focuses on integrated employment and career advancement for individuals with disabilities. ASPE concentrates on Americans with developmental disabilities, which are physical and/or mental disabilities that occur before a person is eighteen years old. But despite the difference in geographic location and nature of German Choc’s disability compared with the focus of the Conference, I learned so much information at ASPE relevant to his employment situation.
In the United States, most people with disabilities are employed in sectors involving “food, flowers, filth, and folding,” what ASPE refers to as the Four Fs. People with disabilities are also twice as likely to be self-employed as the general population, which offers advantages, but can also add to the isolation and feelings of loneliness that many people with disabilities experience. Amidst these facts, raising funds for German Choc’s family-neighborhood store stands out as an incredible example of integrated employment in Guatemala, where only 2-4% of people with disabilities are employed.
To describe the plans for German Choc’s store and what your contributions can help create: German and his family will build a small corner store on family property. The store will have wooden framing, floors, doors, walls, and shutters. It will have tin roofing and shelves, and contain a refrigerator and small freezer. The store will be wheelchair accessible with a large open front, ramps, and counter so that German will be able to fully operate the store.
This description of a corner store in the rural Guatemalan region El Estor seems small, yet this store will set off a domino effect of community transactions that cannot be quantified. Owning and operating a store will give German Choc an important role in his community, one where he has regular contact with people, thereby avoiding the isolation that many people with disabilities experience. As a store owner, German will not just be included, but also have a respected role, one where other community members will rely on him for the items the store sells. From this perspective, contributing funds to the construction of a small corner store has a priceless return on investment in social capital and social inclusion.
The creation of German Choc’s store also speaks to a key principle in the Disability Rights Movement known as Person Centered Planning. Person Centered Planning gives people with disabilities the power to define the direction of their lives based on what they want for themselves, not on what services are available to them. Person Centered Planning is a process where family, friends, and members of the community come together to support the person with a disability in developing a life-plan based on the person’s identified interests and goals. The process of building German’s store incorporates Person Centered Planning from the earliest stages of its inception. German, his family, and local community leaders came together to prepare the store’s full budget, which if you are interested, is available to view on request to Rights Action.
I will sum up my post with words from ASPE’s closing Keynote Speaker Sharon Lewis, Commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. Her words apply just as much to explaining the value of contributing funds to German Choc’s store as they do to Americans with Developmental Disabilities.”Integrated employment enables people with disabilities to expand social relationships and build self-worth and social capital. When people with disabilities are contributing members of their community, we are all the better for it, and anything less is irresponsible and disrespectful.”