Articles & Other Resources

Lessons Learned from Community Rehabilitation Programs: Facilitating Change 'One Person at a Time'

Jim Meehan

Organizations often have difficulty determining which approach may be the most successful when shifting their services from facility-based to community-based. Some close their traditional sheltered workshops or day programs in one massive transformation. However, this radical approach can cause the most upheaval and negative reactions. As an alternative, some organizations have implemented a "one person at a time" approach to organizational change. An advantage to this approach is that the organization's board, staff, and parents are not threatened by sudden change. A disadvantage is the length of time that elapses before individuals with the most significant disabilities are offered access to community services.

One approach to the "one person at a time" strategy is to offer services to individuals who have the most significant challenges first rather than last. When organizations decide to work with those who have the greatest challenges to employment, staff must be risk takers and passionate about the right of an individual to be given the chance for a job. Committing to an anything-it-takes attitude broadens the possibilities and expands the options for those who might have difficulties in a community job setting. If individuals who have the most support needs are successful, their success can have a far-reaching impact on the entire organization's efforts for change.


The Top Ten Actions You, As Parents, Can Take Today ...


Changing Staff Roles

Does your organization want to expand its employment options to include customized employment and downsize its facility-based services? If so, this shift may require a new or different way of doing business including changes in staff roles and job descriptions. In the process, staff may experience rapid changes in their roles, or sometimes these changes may happen slowly. In either case, staff will have questions about how a shift in providing services may impact the agency and their jobs. This is not unusual and a natural part of the change process. The following questions are typical ones that may be asked by staff when organizations work to assist individuals with disabilities in achieving customized employment outcomes.

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Here to There

Then: 25 years ago...

  • Preschool Only For Children With Disabilities
  • Segregated Special Purpose School
  • Sheltered Workshop
  • Segregated Day Program
  • Foster Homes or Living With Family
  • Everyone Transported To One Location
  • Agency Owned and Operated Vans
  • Services Provided In KFI Owned Buildings
  • Groups, GROUPS, GROUPS

Some Free Advice

Ask: Is there anyone doing anything better?
This requires you to seek out best practices and interesting approaches. Read the journals and newsletters, go to conferences, talk to people who are doing good stuff, stay connected, surf the net, etc.

Ask: Why can't we do it?
Take the heart of the matter and apply it to your situation. No, you don't have an infinite number of grad students to work on that terrific project done at the university, but you may be able to change and adapt their idea as well as those of other providers for your own purposes.

Find allies
Nothing we have ever accomplished has come full force from one person. Ideas need to be nurtured, modified, and presented in ways that are acceptable. Strive for hallway conversations -- times when you are so excited about an issue or concept that you can not wait for the "appropriate" time and place to discuss it. You will know you are onto something when you grab people from what they are doing and start disagreeing, agreeing and soul searching on the spot.


On The Road To Regular Lives

Beliefs, Shifts, Milestones, Questions...


  • Work in the community, live in the community, be a part of the community, contribute to community.
  • Resist the temptation as a human service agency to be the employer, the landlord, or the sole supporters of people with disabilities. It is a formula for disaster.
  • Act as an aid to community integration, not as a barrier to it.
  • Change one person at a time.
  • Abandon the notions of "readiness", the continuum of services, and that people need "fixing".
  • Assure there are no double standards (services should reflect what you'd want and need).
  • Scrap groups, programs, and buildings. It only works for individuals with supports in the community.
  • Invest in "values training". It is the most important investment you can make.
  • Reinforce (or establish) participatory management.
  • Listen to the gurus.
  • Talk about your dreams, set your sights high.
  • Work in a state of discontent. Know there are always better ways.

Building Communities Since 1962