By Katie Sobiech
Integrating those with developmental disabilities into society has been a major goal of the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board.
Two of their main focus areas have been inclusion in schooling and with job opportunities.
“The vision and mission of our board is to make sure that individuals with disabilities are participating in their own communities. That they’re working, living and learning in their own communities,” Billie Jo David, Director of the Office of Communications said.
Because of this, their well-known Weaver School closed its doors in 2007, transferring its students to other schools within the community.
The Problem with Separate Schooling
“Local school districts are required to provide integrated schooling for individuals with developmental disabilities. Having to segregate schools where people (with disabilities) all around the county were bussed to go to a different school than their neighbors and people on their street wasn’t the most inclusive environment for people,” David said.
This led to their transitioning people with special needs into local schools and helping coordinate services to be able to do that.
“Now every school age child in Summit County is getting their education along with their neighbors and friends in their own community schools,” David said.
Partnering with Schools
“It also takes a great partnership with all of the local school districts. They should get all of the credit for that. They are able to offer such great, integrative, inclusive environments in their own schools,” David said.
New Integrative Programming
And with their services being cradle to grave, they try to incorporate inclusion at all levels.
One of their newest integrative programs is “Community Partnership for Inclusion” (CPI), which focuses on day cares and pre-schools.
“Calico used to be a lot bigger, but there were a lot of parents making the 20 mile trip to drop off their child at Calico and turning around to go back home, or where they work. So our staff identified there was a need out there to train childcare professionals in inclusion, and to help privately run daycare centers in people’s own communities successfully integrate children with disabilities into the daycare center,” David said.
And that’s why they started the CPI program, in which they’ve trained more than 1,000 childcare professionals in Summit County over the last 3 years.
They now have 16 partner, privately run daycare sites that are opening their doors to children with disabilities and have inclusion specialists that help rotate and provide equipment, support and inclusion techniques to help these children be successful in the privately run daycare center.
Making Life “Typical”
“We have more than 20 kids who are going to school with their friends and neighbors now. It’s much like the transitioning we did with the Weaver School. The teachers in these daycare centers and preschools don’t have to worry so much about inclusion because our staff is coming in to help develop these techniques to be able to meld those and teach staff some sign language to help the kids communicate,” David said.
“It’s been a very, very successful program over the last 3 years and has really picked up over the last year. We hear from parents now, they go to Target, or the grocery store, or the bank and their kids say ‘Mommy I know him, he’s my friend Joey from preschool’. And for a parent with a developing child to hear someone say ‘That’s my friend’ it just means everything to the parent,” she continued.
And this is great preparation for their future, when they will enter the workplace.
Acme Fresh Markets is one great example of a business who welcomes those with special needs.
“Acme Fresh Market has a great partnership with Summit DD .We partner with them to employ associates in our stores,” Katie Swartz, Director of Marketing at Acme Fresh Markets, said.
Most associates work on the front end as cashiers and baggers, which she says seems to be the best fit.
“It’s worked out great. Acme is very proud to employ Summit DD associates, it’s important to us,” Swartz said.
And not only is Summit DD working with local businesses, they are creating their own through their Microenterprise Progam. Stay tuned for next week’s story on this developing program.
For more info. on Summit DD, please visit http://www.summitdd.org .