This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website:

26 April, 2012

Power to Affect Society to be Different and Better


My name is Mette. While not an early career professional, I recently embarked on a new career venture, that of the first Policy Fellow for the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities through AUCD. This is an exciting, exhilarating, and sometimes daunting opportunity, which reminds me every day of challenges throughout my career. Every new experience has forced me to revisit my learning and motivation to pursue a career in disability services. It challenges my thinking and skill. It forces an interface with new systems, new cultures, and new organizations and people who have made long and steady commitments to the field.

No matter how long one has pursued a professional career, I realize, one continues to learn. Each of us goes about it in a unique and individual way, but we continue to build skills and knowledge toward leadership. It is ongoing. And it should never stop.

Last month Kristina, lover of analogies, shared her reflections about the movie “Remember the Titans”, a story about more than football and winning. It is a story of leadership during one of the most important periods in American history, the civil rights movement, which changed our country. Through pushing, prodding, vision and faith, leadership proved that we could be different and better.

Stories such as these demonstrate our power in how we can lead others to affect society to be different and better. What comes to my mind is another movie, with another leader who made lives different and better in important, everyday ways. The perennial Frank Capra favorite, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one I still watch with my family every Christmas. It juxtaposes the lives of people in Bedford Falls should community fellow, George Bailey, have lived or not. After 60 years it is a classic that still resonates with millions.

What draws us to these movies that tell stories generations apart? I think it is optimism and the belief that we can change lives for the better. George Bailey held the belief that people, given a chance and voice, can change their lives and their community. Without the generosity of leadership that believed in their goodness and possibilities, people were thrown into lives that were cruel, lonely, and without dignity.

I see parallels in this story with our disability work today and our place in forging change and crafting opportunities for the future. Recently, I was fortunate to attend one of the several self-advocacy summits across the country, where self-advocates came together to share their voices and their desires as to how they want to live their lives. Employment, a good community in which to live, friendships, and access to services were some of the important things self-advocates spoke of. Everyday things. They wanted what we all want: the symbolic Bedford Falls that George Bailey envisioned. A simple but timeless desire.

Since I first began working in the field of disability service, I have seen dramatic changes in the work and in the role people with disabilities have taken: disability service is now powered by the voice of the self-advocate. This has been affected by technology for health, mobility and communication; by early intervention for the development of young children and support of parents; by special education and inclusion for learning in a community; and by the Olmsted Decision and the expectation that people with disabilities can and will live in inclusive communities. As a result, self-advocates themselves tell us what they need and want and how we, as allies, can help.

What will the next 20-30 years hold for our inclusive communities? Who knows? Who among us will help lead our collective future, together as people with and without disabilities?

You will have the opportunity to inspire the people you work with. You will recognize the contributions of others and the common goals that need to be identified. You will set the culture in the workplace and the community through your example and your leadership. You will use your education and experience in new ways. You will lead.

There is a saying used in the early childhood community, known as “The Platinum Rule”, even better than “The Golden Rule”. It is: Do unto others as you would have others do unto others. George Bailey recognized that. He knew, as we all do, that the faith you have in others and the opportunities you create together for people to be happy and successful makes a wonderful community, and a wonderful life.

You have a great future ahead as you accept the challenge. It is wonderful work you have chosen to do. I wish you the very best.


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