Direct support Professional's (DSP's) have an important role in assisting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in becoming a part of their community. There are three areas we will explore in increasing successful community integration. Understanding the meaning of community inclusion is an important first step. Second, one must understand the significance of natural supports for people having developmental and or intellectual disabilities. The third step is community bridge building. There are many speed bumps that exist on the road to community integration, but integration can be achieved with an open mind, patience and positive attitude.

What is Community Inclusion

Community Inclusion is sharing in community life specific to four areas. The first area is to have a physical presence in one's community. This could be living in a normal house in a normal subdivision with all types of neighbors. Cultural integration is important as it also helps establish a common likeness and acceptance. Cultural norms may favor a particular type of job or go to a specific church. Connections with others are an important, necessary ingredient of inclusion. Relationships with all kinds of people not just people with disabilities is a requirement in inclusion. Just as important is self-determination in forming relationships and choosing activities. Activities and acquaintances should be choices of the participant and not based upon convenience of a DSP.

Equally important is to understand what is not community integration. If a participant is on a van with a group of other program participants in the community, the fact that they are on a van with others in the community is not community integration. Just because a person goes to the Day Program for people with disabilities in the community, it is not considered real integration. If a person lives in a regular community or subdivision, this is not necessarily community integration. Community inclusion requires active participation in one's community, with all types of community members.

Natural Supports

Natural supports are merely life. We all have natural relationships in life. This means we have community connections and relationships with all types of people. Examples of natural support are friendships with coworkers, being friends with various church congregation members, having family relationships, having a neighbor that brings soup when you are feeling ill. Natural supports build a sense of interdependence with others. Interdependence is a mutually beneficial connection between two people. These relationships are based on commonality and a sense of mutual respect. Interdependent relationships act to provide safety and security for the participant. Participants with community associations and natural support are less likely to face abuse, neglect and exploitation than those who do not have connections.

Community Bridge Building

The DSP assists the participant in building connections with community members, friends and community organizations. The DSP serves an important role in educating the community on the importance of acceptance and understanding. One of the best things a DSP can do is be a proper role model for behavior and communication for those they support. DSP's should not assume that participants understand socially acceptable ways to interact and make good first impressions. DSP should keep in mind that participants face stigma and are viewed unfairly based on media portrayals or simple ignorance. Relationships take time to build, and DSP's should encourage frequent community involvement

Author's Bio: 

Bobby Harris is a driven, experienced and knowledgeable professional within areas such as healthcare, childhood education, abuse intervention and crisis prevention; organizational leadership and intellectual / developmental Disabilities.