Group brainstorms a brighter future

The goal is to make the city more friendly to people with disabilities
Friday, August 3, 2007 | 12:10 a.m. CDT; updated 9:30 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA-All in attendance were asked to imagine, to think.

A time capsule appeared at the Columbia Public Library on Thursday afternoon, transporting the group to the year 2027.

“Is everybody on the time capsule with me?” Fourth Ward Councilman Jerry Wade asked the approximately 20 people who attended the planning workshop sponsored by the Columbia Disabilities Commission.

They were. Some stared intently at the table and others closed their eyes and smiled at the possibilities: neighborhoods with wide sidewalks, universal design, acceptance, respect, communication, vibrant social and sexual lives, and an educated community free of judgment.

That was the future envisioned at the workshop designed to stimulate discussion about what role people with disabilities should play in the city.

“This is a way of looking driven by the future,” Wade said. “You should think of where you want things to be. Every person in here has good ideas and contributions to make. This is not strictly about agreeing, but shaping and building a plan.”

The event was the result of a commitment made by Wade at a candidate forum sponsored by the Disability Coalition in March and was planned by Services for Independent Living. Wade, who worked as a community development specialist, helped facilitate the meeting so that the commission and members of the community living with disabilities could focus on ways to expand their role in the city.

“I hope that we can develop a vision of what is needed for people with disabilities to become contributing members of society,” said Matt Buckley, a member of the commission. “I think it’s an important point to guarantee the participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of the community.”

The morning was spent looking at the purpose and values of people living with disabilities. Groups of three brainstormed then rejoined the larger group for discussion. The event centered around finding common themes and goals for the future. Among them were building opportunity and unity by educating the Columbia community about living with disabilities.

“I think it has gone really well,” said Aimee Wehmeier, executive director of Services for Independent Living. “It’s exciting to have so many diverse people with different perspectives trying to share information and form a common goal.”

In the planning session, four small groups came up with preliminary plans for programs that would help those with disabilities start businesses, fix and widen sidewalks within the community, start recreation programs, improve medical care and begin early education in schools regarding the lives of those with disabilities.

“People should be treated as people,” commission member Sandy Rosenholtz said. “You may not be able to walk or move or enunciate the way you would like to, but you should be treated equally.”

The commission hopes the brainstorming and planning process will help eliminate one of the biggest obstacles — people’s perception and judgments about their abilities and lives.

“Once these things are in place, people will see that people with disabilities are people — people who just happen to have disabilities,” Buckley said.

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