Only Anecdotal

No numbers, just stories

Aging and Disability

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Last week I had the opportunity to walk into the formal face of my double-faceted work existence as I attended both the Massachusetts Home Care Conference and the Massachusetts Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) Conference. Back-to-back, I witnessed duals (not duels… although I wonder), and the very notion of what it means to be a service provider in this changing world.

A word from Christine Griffin perhaps brought it all back home to me. To paraphrase her lunchtime talk at the SILC conference, she discussed the notion of the newly aging–a great difference as I have seen between the newly sixty-year-old Vietnam-era consumer, and the ninety-five-year-old WWII veteran. Remember the clash of cultures back in the day? Depression-era stoic survivor not wanting help, versus Civil Rights-era champion demanding help–and equality, to boot? It is enormous, and Ms. Griffin’s statement about meals on wheels (“I am not going to accept the Salisbury Steak; I may just want to order a pizza!”) hits the nail on the head.

I find a lot of resistance to “help” from that Depression-era crowd. It seems to me that they are proud of their achievements, and do not cede their independence easily. But it is more than that.

I am forever frustrated–annoyed–by the idea that granting freedom to people by giving them the assistance they need to live life fully is an entitlement, and that some people are more entitled than others. For some strange reason, we feel that the compliant survivors of the first half of the nineteenth century somehow worked to earn services, and Medicare, and our help if they need it, whereas a younger person who has the misfortune of developing some life-altering illness or disability cannot easily receive the same level of support.

This is true in terms of the sheer availability of the most basic services, like homemaking, as well as at an administrative level where the power clearly lies more in aging community than in the younger disabled world.

I know this is always a controversial subject, but numbers tell a great story, and by numbers I mean distribution of money. We are supposed to collaborate in our aging and disability consortia, but too often I see a competition where there should never be one.

The services through the aging and disability consortia right now include the options counseling program–which was in its root a real collaboration between the two worlds–and the care transitions programs (STAAR, Coleman Coaching programs) meant to help prevent hospital readmissions of specific groups of people. It is absolutely astounding to me that in the second category, these programs seem to be popping up, presumably a product of aging and disability worlds, but they are the elder service agencies that own them. Was there ever any sort of collaboration? If so, when? Or has the disability world been present only in name but not in voice? How very sad.

At the Home Care Conference, I was delighted to meet up with a few of the Information and Referral staff from my Independent Living Center’s partners in the Aging world. When the ADRC project began over four years ago, our area included five of the Aging Service Access Points, and there were monthly meetings with I&R and options counseling staff. Over the three years that we met, I learned an enormous amount about how agencies that serve the same population with the same programs can differ so much. We learned how we are innovative in our own ways, perhaps the best ones for our specific communities; we learned to work together. And best of all, we all really liked one another. It was a key to our success, this sharing, and I miss it. I think that if we are ever to rediscover that spirit of collaboration, it will require more efforts like this, coffee, stories, community. Formerly quarterly reports and meetings are simply not enough. We need to meet monthly, informally perhaps, in smaller groups–often enough that we feel close, and not limited to the pressing demands as we are turning to one another for advice and support.

It is obvious why disabilities of all sorts and the aging community would want to come together: politically, we are much stronger as one unified voice than we are as separate voices asking for the same thing. Divided, we are easily conquered as well.

So, we need to step back, and listen. We need to tear apart our misconceptions, our silos. Oh–I know how trite this sounds as we have all heard the silo speeches before. But in fact, even in the dearest community to me, I saw how separate we all are, the aging services, disability services, medical services, technical services. It absolutely astounds me to keep going to meetings and conferences and hear all the same stories told in different ways, with great ideas that somehow are not–still!–uniting. So much potential in all of it, especially now. And now is the time to come together and act.

Written by Only Anecdotal

17 Sep 2012 at 7:37pm

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