Community 4 All: Digital Toolkits Will Promote Community Inclusion and Participation for Individuals With Intellectual Disabilities

For the past year, School of Education faculty, staff, and students, self-advocates, and experts from around the country have been developing six digital toolkits for people with intellectual disabilities. The toolkits are part of the “Community 4 All” project, a five-year $2.3 million dollar grant awarded to Syracuse University’s Center on Human Policy from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). The Center on Human Policy, founded by Dr. Burton Blatt in 1971, is a Syracuse University based policy, research, and advocacy organization involved in the national movement to insure the rights of people with disabilities. Since its founding, the Center has been involved in the study and promotion of open settings (inclusive community opportunities) for people with disabilities.

The toolkits, currently in production, contain free digital resources designed around six specific themes: “Community Living 4 All;” “Self-Advocacy and Choices 4 All;” “Community Participation 4 All;” “Life Long Learning 4 All;” “Digital Communities 4 All;” and “Family 4 All.”  The idea for this project builds off of a toolkit produced by the Center on Human Policy in 2004 with other national organizations to counter backlash against deinstitutionalization and community living opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The new digital toolkits will allow people with intellectual disabilities access, through technology, to greater resources and contacts to fully participate in their communities. The toolkits will also include resources for states, agencies, policymakers, and families to help promote full community inclusion.

Shaping the content and design of these toolkits is extensive. Through workshops and work sessions, experts, self-advocates, family members, and people in state agencies from around the country assist project staff to identify critical issues and resources in the field. Alan Foley, Director of the Center and principal investigator and project coordinator for the grant, says, if all goes as planned, the first two toolkits, “Self-Advocacy and Choices 4 All” and “Community Living 4All,” will be released in summer 2016.

Once completed, the next task will be field-testing and ultimately marketing the toolkits, with the help of state and national project collaborators, including the University of Delaware and the Self-Advocacy Association of New York State.  Project staff will attend local and national conferences to spread the word and make personal connections, along with utilizing other self-advocacy and intellectual disability networks to assist in distributing them. Foley says that the main goal of the toolkits is to promote full community inclusion and participation for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Another goal is to demonstrate how individuals with intellectual disabilities can use technology.

Jonathan Rushmore, one of several self-advocates on the project team, works on technology and in finding resources for the toolkits.  He believes these toolkits are going to be extremely helpful for self-advocates because they have a practical purpose: “people with intellectual disabilities cannot live without this tool because there is so much information that is good and useful for them,” says Rushmore.  He also says that it is the technology that makes these toolkits special. Michael Kennedy, another self-advocate who works on the project team, moved out of an institution and into his own home.  He hopes the toolkits will provide individuals with intellectual disabilities up to date resources so they can have the same opportunities and resources he had, so they can fully participate in their own communities.

All six toolkits will be available on a variety of digital platforms including mobile applications and websites and will also be available in formats that allow print and alternate formats to present the toolkits in unique and diverse ways.

According to Foley, if anyone with an intellectual disability wants a digital toolkit, the project will do what it can to get them one, and while these toolkits are not going to solve all issues within each topic, the hope is that they will provide new opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities to get information and resources that are not currently available.

The “Community 4 All” project was developed in 2014 as a collaborative effort between principal investigators Alan Foley; Wendy Harbour, the associate executive director for programs and development for the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD); and the late Steven Taylor, Centennial Professor of Disability Studies and long time director of the Center on Human Policy.  Katherine McDonald an associate professor in the Department of Public Health, Food Studies and Nutrition in the Falk College of Sport and Human at Syracuse University joined the project as co-PI in early 2015.