CTAT, LLC and Denver Human Services/Denver Mill Levy Creating Inclusive Community for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD)
Striving to create an inclusive community, the City and County of Denver is teaming up with CTAT, LLC., to enlighten, educate and empower community leaders, such as pastors, teachers and employers, about the needs of people with I/DD to enhance their quality of relationships and experiences.
CTAT, LLC formed panels consisting of people with I/DD to present the unique issues they face as they strive to live a “normal connected” life while navigating the world that includes such things as working a job, traversing the public transportation system, using the local public library and finding recreational opportunities.
To kick off the Community Counts! series, Joanne Cohen and Gayann Brandenburg of CTAT, LLC held two presentation skills seminars for people with I/DD, giving them tools so they could feel comfortable and confident in telling their stories in front of community leaders.
“We are here to help you!” Cohen told I/DD audience members. “You are a big part of making a difference in our community. We are here to support you in that journey.”
Talking about ourselves and feeling relaxed in a public setting is unnerving for most people, but armed with tips on how to speak in a clear, calm manner to be understood and heard can turn that process into an opportunity to be an ambassador for the I/DD community.
Some of the pointers Cohen presented on removing the hurdles to public speaking included breathing and meditation techniques, holding a strong posture to exude confidence, practicing eye contact without staring by looking at people’s foreheads and being aware of not holding defensive body language.
“When you have butterflies in your stomach, picture them flying in formation,” Cohen explained. “We tend to hold our breath when we are afraid. Try the 6-3-6 breathing technique.”
Cohen then had the audience members breathe in their nose for six seconds, hold their breath for three seconds and then exhale through their mouth for six seconds.
Brandenburg reminded the potential “ambassadors” to be comfortable in their skin and in what they wear when going in a public setting. Exhibiting a clean and neat appearance in comfortable clothes will go a long way in allowing people to focus on public speaking and relating the obstacles and hurdles they face in order to help people without I/DD understand the needs of the I/DD community to enhance connections to create authentic friendships.
After giving the audience members tools they can use to succeed in public speaking situations, the “potential panelists” broke down into small groups to discuss various topics and to answer mock questions that might come up during the four seminars that will be held in 2020-2021.
The upcoming seminars are:
- Inclusion in Employment,
- Inclusion and Engagement in Community Life,
- Access to Community Services and
- Diversity and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
See box below for dates.
The I/DD ambassadors were then encouraged to stand before their colleagues and practice the public speaking skills they just learned, beginning with “Tell Us About You.” The ambassadors talked about themselves and told stories about situations they had faced, and how by educating the public about inclusivity can lead to authentic healthy lifelong relationships.
One theme that stood out was barriers in the workplace that made the ambassadors feel isolated and not appreciated as workplace relationships play a large role in people’s identities, and those roles and interactions tend to be more pronounced with the I/DD community.
“Sometimes I don’t feel included at work,” said one member, “during snow days when we were closed, they didn’t include me,” resulting in her trudging to work in the snow while relying on unreliable public transportation.
Another person broke down when she told about a time a co-workers called her a “retard.”
“It was unkind and disrespectful,” she said as tears welled in her eyes. “We need people to treat us how they want to be treated.”
Chris, who has autism, said he wants to be an advocate for himself and others. “People stare at me. They don’t understand, and I feel excluded.”
One person said they were glad they came to the presentation course and looks forward to being a panelist and an ambassador for the I/DD community. “I was encouraged to come here today, and I’m glad I did. It’s about educating people.”
“I’m glad I came, too, because I like meeting nice people, and I got to learn about different subjects,” said another potential panelist.
“It’s about support,” said another. “We need to be treated fair.”
Dennis said he wants to keep working to improve his abilities and to learn and to educate the public on the I/DD community’s needs.
Erin, who has appeared on local TV news shows, summed it up nicely for her colleagues: “Don’t give up. Be confident and know what you want.”
Yes, confidence can conquer fears, and being included by your community can elevate people with I/DD to become contributing members while finding their unique place to blossom.
These ambassadors will be presenting their experiences to the public during the Community Counts! series using skills they obtained at the first two presentation seminars.
People sharing their heartfelt and authentic experiences was thought-provoking, educational, and moved us to action. Come join us and learn more!
- Diversity: March 5, May 7, August 13, November 12
- Employment: March 12, June 4, September 10, December 10
- Community Life: April 2, June 11, September 17, January 7, 2021
- Community Access: April 30, July 9, October 9, January 12, 2021