Our community ! Understanding communities ! Dysfunctional communities ! Building better communities
  Understanding disability service organisations ! An alternative model ! Community research ! Community survey

A question of difference
A liability or an asset?

Social Role Valorisation (SRV)
Disability services
Disability and community
Explanation of terms

A question of difference

Communities are generally a "one size fits all" approach to social integration and participation. The community provides for the needs of the majority of its members. The institution of the community acts as the mechanism for social order and stability (see Characteristicts on an institution). Anything that is outside of the normal community expectations (social norm) will be seen as different. People outside the social norm are often marganalised.

1) Communities can become conditioned to behave a certain way. There are numerous examples where the patterns of behaviour within a community have been influenced by a person, event or activity that involves the whole community. They can happen in a short time, or over a period of generations. The attack on the World Trade Centre is a good example where community attitudes and behaviours were changed in a day. The motor car, the telephone, internet and other forms of communication have also changed the way communities behave. We also see the creation of new communities and cultures built around cult figures, ideologies, music etc. Communities can change with each new generation where young people find their own identities, they develop their own language, cultures and customes that are unfamular to older generations. We see communities that have to adapt to the changing landscape. The RSL was formed to support solders returned from the great wars. With the numbers of solders getting smaller each year the RSL is having to find new ways of staying relevant to the community as a whole. Religous communities are also having to look new ways they can stay in touch with the changing needs of their members.
Communities can also change in a subtle way that is not recognised until the transformation has happened. These changes can affect whole communities or communities within communities where members grow up in families and environments, and learn particular ways of thinking, they learn the behaviours, values and roles of their peers. New generations live in communities that are consumer orientated (consumer societies). Why do it your self when you can purchase it?  We loose the skills and knowledge to be self sufficent, we see the advertising and become conditioned to a belief that a product is better for us. While the motor car has opened new horizons, we have become dependant on it in almost every aspact of our lives. Governments have also contributed to the reconstruction of communities by becomming service providers or regulating service sectors. There is a great deal of debate about the role of governments in todays society. Just as communities of 2nd and 3rd generation unemployed in England and Europe have lost the skills to actively engage in a productive work culture (Their parents and others have not provided the necessary roles - getting up to go to work etc), and therefore depend (are dependant) on social welfare, so too, communities have lost the skills (or never had them) in providing for the needs of people that have a physical or intellectual disability. The current generation is growing up in a society where service providers provide direct intervention in the care of people with disability and the community supports these activities. They see the ads, read the literature. Their families and peers strengthen this culture and so it becomes the social norm.

2) They are generally outside the experiences of the other members of the community.
Anything that is different to what is expected will elicit a negative response; I dont know how to deal with the situation, or I dont want to deal with this situation, or someone else can deal with this situation, or a conditioned response that has been successful in the past, or learned from other members, or passed down from generation to generation and embedded into the culture.
Comunities can also be suspicious of anything new or different. The beliefs, values, cultures and behaviours (institutions) are valued as a part of the community and anything that comes along that challenges these institutions will be resisted. Muslems for example bring their traditions with them and expect everyone else to respect them. They live and participate in the community but find that

3) Communities generally cater for the community as a whole, rather than meeting individual needs.
When designing facilities, services or activities for the community, it is impracticable to measure everyone in the community, so a standard is used that takes into account the averages of its members. Buildings are built to a standard, services are designed to meet certain criteria, education and recreational activities are designed around the average person. Any one outside these averages will be disadvantaged. My mother is fairly independent, but restricted to a wheel chair, and simple things like going to the movies etc become a logistical headache. I know that when I buy a pair of pants or a shirt my size it may take me a while to find the right size because one size in one brand is not the same fit in another brand (too big or small). I find the whole process frustrating, and can somewhat imagine what it would be like for someone with a severe physical disability to go throughout their whole life like that.

4) There is generally some form of harm, friction or conflict of interests between the members. A good example is where a person with a physical disability tries to do some shopping and cannot access the shop for various reasons, and complains to the management. The management does not see the need to make any modifications (too expensive etc) and sees the person as a trouble maker. The person becomes frustrated and angry with the manager or feels marginalised in not being able to participate in the activity. The members of the minority group (or others acting on their behalf) become aggressive in asserting their rights (and sometimes without regard to the rights of the others). We see various minority rights movements actively promoting their cause through community education, protests, demonstrations, riots and civil wars. The rights of people with disability that are enshrined in law (Disability Service Standards etc) only came about through advocacy and education, were people made a stand against the community. People can also be marginalised by their behaviour, the activities that they participate in (taking illegal drugs, stealing etc) or association to a particular ethnic, cultural or religious group (street gangs, crime gangs, extreme religious groups etc). There is a perception that the characteristic is harmfull or dangerous to other members of the community. Other people that have aids or a particular contagious disease etc are also marginalised (or even disenfranchised) to protect the other members of the community.

5) Its too hard. People that do not have the support networks necessary for participating in the activities of the community, or may not be able to cope with other members of the community become marginalised. Members that do not have the means (through a disability or a lack of resources - personal and social) find that it is better to just stay at home or mix with their own kind. People who share a characteristic that is rare in the community often become marginalised because of a lack of resources to support their needs. Safety and security also become more important than being a part of the community. A good example is where famous people are hounded by the paparazzi, they feel victimised and powerless to the point that their lives are at risk.

People who are outside this social norm or behave differently to others are labelled according to the charasteristic that makes them different.
People that have different values or behaviours that disrupt the social norm are often referred to as "antisocial".
People that have an intellectual or physical charasteristic that is outside the social norm are often referred to as "sick", "demented", "cripple", "spastic." etc
People that have an extreem behavioural deviation from the social norm (usually in a sexual nature) are often referred to as "deviant".
People outside the social norm have also been labelled as "gifted", "pioneer" "excentric", "exceptional" etc.

A liability or an asset?
The idea of difference is both a liability as well as an asset to the community. The trick is finding the ballence.

A liability:
To much difference in a community means that the community can not function as a community. There are no conrtols or restraints, no order and stability.
Without a form of order and stability ...
... the community can not fulfill its role,
... there are no boundaries that define the community,
... the members do not see themselves as a part of the community,
... communication brakes down, or is nonexistent
... the commnity looses its skills and reources,
... the community can not fulfill its needs,
... clubs, teams, groups etc are no longer are a part of the community,

An asset:
Allows the community to evolve. The community has the ability to adapt to new circumanstances that might otherwise destroy the community. New ways of thinking and diong things facilitates diversity and trying new things.

The idea of difference is well known in the field of medicine and human development. Where there is no diversity in physiological systems problems appear. Sccial systems are no different in that the generic (institutional) structure of the community becomes so deformed and unrecognisable as a social system that it can not exist. The social system becomes so specalised around a particular characteristic that other characteristicts inportant to the overall health of the system fail or disappear.

Communities compete with each other for existing skills and resources, The more diverse the community is, the more opportunity it has to take advantage of, and protect, it's own skils and resources. The community is also more able to take davantage of the skills and resources of other communities that are a part of it, as well as the communities that it is a part of.

When providing the most appropriate care for people with high support needs ...
1) The community is not where the person is living, but where the person participates, shares experiences and has valued relationships with others.
2) People with high support needs (severe disability, aged etc.) will always need support structures as a part of their lives.
3) The amount of participation in a community (living, education, employment or recreation) is directly related to the skills and resources of the person, and, the skills and resources of the community that the person wishes to participate in.
4) Institutions are going to be around in one form or another whether we like it or not, It is the way that they are used that is the problem.
5) The institutions of a society towards a particular group determine the way the group participates in society.
6) The institutions of a particular government department, organisation, profession or service define the way the person is supported within that society.
7) Facilities that support people with high support needs do not need to be the nursing homes or prisons in the sense that they are today, but can become warm inviting community places that offer a range of services to the community, as well as be a part of the wider community within that society.
8) People with high support needs are a minority group in our society, and will have the same problems as other minority groups in being a part of society.

Peter Anderson