The middle of next month is the deadline for submitting names of people and organizations for the Council’s Community Building Awards. It’s always nice to give and get awards. They make both sides feel good, give everybody a reason to get together and have a good time, and, most importantly, provide an opportunity to highlight good practice and remind everyone why it’s important to do what we do. This last is the key of course. As we get to the last couple of weeks for putting names forward for the award I thought we should make an additional pitch here in this space. These awards were started, in part, because it is through making our shared communities more diverse and inclusive that we promote harmony and reduce conflict and misunderstanding. Wars, for example, are simply tribal conflicts magnified. Mass shootings are a symptom of alienation. It is through healthy communities that individuals, groups, businesses and political systems are able to thrive. We see it time and time again. Fragmented communities are unstable, troubled, tense and sometime dangerous. Individuals who don’t feel like they belong and are valued in their communities, or who don’t feel like they have any communities they are a part of, are insecure, isolated, uptight and volatile. People with developmental disabilities have long struggled to get opportunities for community involvement and to get the supports they need to help them make that involvement meaningful. That’s been steadily changing for the better, as we’ve discussed recently here in this space. That change continues to progress in part because of recognition of those who promote building better communities and the strategies they use to accomplish those goals. Prior to the first of the Council’s Community Building Awards, Jane Dunhamn, project manager and diversity coordinator, brought the idea to the Council’s Executive Director Dr. Alison Lozano. The anchor for the agency’s awards presentation is that all the honorees would be tied to this overarching theme that for people with developmental disabilities—as for everyone—the communities that surround us and in which we participate are major contributors to how we define ourselves. And vice versa. They influence us and we influence them. The old cliché we’re all in this together is one of those adages that lives up to its long standing reputation. At the national level there seems to finally be a budding recognition of this. While we all are drawn to groups and parties, affiliations and philosophies most like our own, when the chips are down, on the major challenges of the day, we sink or swim together. We’ve talked recently on this page about how much has changed in the more rounded treatment of people with disabilities in the broader community as portrayed through the media and in popular culture. Alexis Wineman’s participation in the Miss America pageant and the coverage of that event is a recent example (http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2013/01/15/beauty-queen-autism-history/17078/ ). In looking at video interviews of Ms. Wineman it is clear that her small home town—Cut Bank Montana, population just under 3,000—helped infuse her with the practical, down-to-earth temperament that grounds her as she deals with the recent fame and attention. Her community played no small part in who she is becoming, as it does with all of us, and she is now emerging as a spokesperson for them in turn. Closer to home a recent column from the Philadelphia Inquirer highlights efforts by local police to better understand the needs of a growing community population of residents with developmental disabilities. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/local/20130131_Kevin_Riordan__Gloucester_County_trains_police_to_deal_with_the_mentally_challenged.html Although the column shows some education is still needed, in language and tone, it more importantly reveals the ongoing recognition that people with developmental disabilities should be living in local communities and community infrastructures need to make the necessary adjustments to ensure a successful integration—as those institutions must do with any other changes in the community make up. Our diverse communities are what make our society strong. Help the Council honor those who are making meaningful contributions to building inclusive communities by getting the word out about the Community Building Awards. Contact the Council, specifically Jane Dunhamn, email@example.com“>firstname.lastname@example.org , before the Feb 15 deadline with your nominations. There was a news story this week about the challenges high schools have in working to include students with disabilities in extracurricular sports activities. Oscar Pretorius put the issue of athletes with disabilities competing at the top levels of sports with their non-disabled peers when he won his right to compete in this past summer’s Olympics. At issue in the Pretorius case was whether his advance-design artificial legs gave him an unfair advantage. The governing body eventually said no it didn’t and allowed his participation. Pretorius made a respectable showing in the games but didn’t look as if he had any unfair edge by any means. As more and more students with disabilities want to compete on their school teams, and can in many cases, education and other groups and organizations are working to catch up with demand and form some reasonable guidelines for how to move forward. We’ll keep tabs of those efforts as they unfold and talk about them here and other Council venues. Essentially it is a good thing that the issue is on the map and that students with disabilities are doing more and being allowed to do more. However, this and the question of higher education for students with cognitive disabilities raise some difficult questions about what inclusion really means and how should it be handled. Everybody shouldn’t be able to do everything. At the same time, those who want a fair chance at reasonable and meaningful participation should get that chance. The lines here are still very much in flux. As we move through these sometimes complex decisions I believe common sense and honesty are good tools to apply. There are certain basic criteria that dictate the evaluation of certain levels of achievement. Even before I was injured permanently nearly forty years ago I couldn’t palm or dunk a basketball. I loved basketball. Played religiously throughout middle school and high school. In the gyms and playgrounds of the city though. Not the school team. Why not? Simple. I just wasn’t good enough. It was disappointing, sure. But it was one of the many things I learned through that period that I wasn’t going to be able to do. Not smart enough, fast enough, strong enough or rich enough. It’s one of life’s most important lessons. Everybody doesn’t have a right to do everything. There are going to be more things we can’t do than we can so we’d better get used to it. And if we lead people to believe it is, or should be, otherwise we’re doing them a disservice. Denying people opportunities is not what I’m talking about here. It’s being honest with them and ourselves about what opportunities are really meaningful to open up. I’m all for working for people to have opportunities to experience and participate in things they have long been denied. No doubt people with disabilities have been excluded from many opportunities they should have. Advocating to break down those barriers is at the core of what advocacy is all about. But let’s be honest. Not everyone is going to participate in the Olympics. Nurturing dreams is great. But don’t oversell it. Getting a college degree has become an expectation. In too many cases a necessity. I think that’s unfortunate. It used to be that college was a path for some. Other paths were for others. Now with everybody expected to get some kind of college degree the achievement has lost too much ot it of its meaning and clout. A degree loses something if it’s not defined by a more rigorous intellectual performance than everyone can achieve. It is okay, and even essential, to have different paths and levels in life. What’s not okay is when we over value some and under value others. A shared advocacy goal should be to promote high levels of respect for all levels of contribution. This way we are not falling into the trap of pushing people into unreasonable situations, with trumped up expectations; or of altering useful definitions and thereby diminishing outcomes for everyone.