Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Relationship Between The Color Green And The Number Seven

The relationship between truth and a newspaper is like the relationship between the color green and the number seven. Occasionally you will see the number seven written in green but you learn not to expect this.

Garrison Keillor

I love that quote. It is completely absurd, and yet it makes perfect sense.

I happen to feel that the relationship between Medicaid funding for people with disabilities and the services that people with one or more developmental disabilities truly want is the same as Garrison Keillor’s view of the relationship between the color green and the number seven – occasionally the funding and services line up, but we have learned not to expect that to happen.

Now, the question may arise: “Well, what do people with one or more developmental disabilities truly want?” While acknowledging that every individual is different (like they say – if you’ve met one person with a developmental disability, you’ve met one person with a developmental disability), my personal experience leads me to believe that in general, the answer to that question is two-fold: they want acceptance, and they want to be productive members of their communities.

It seems to me that if we can achieve the latter, the former should follow.

So, how do we get there? Let’s do this exercise: instead of describing this population as “disabled,” what if instead we say they are “people who find it difficult to learn.” That moves those of us described as service providers away from a service role, and re-defines us as teachers as well as supporters in getting this population to the point where they can meet those goals of acceptance and becoming contributing members of their communities.

To get that done, we need to identify elements of learning and elements of community participation, and educate our Direct Support Professionals on those elements. If we don’t do those things, we can’t get the job done.

The current way we fund services is not conducive at all to identifying and educating on those key elements. We don’t fund learning and community contribution. We fund things like IPs and behavior correction. I’m not saying those don’t have a place in what we do, but they tend to be treated as end points instead of tools to reach the bigger goals.

Those of us in the service field need to simplify what we do by asking if what we are doing is meeting end goals of acceptance and community contribution. Once we know where we are going, it will be easier to get there. I’m not pointing fingers here, by the way. This approach hasn’t always been a strength here at Imagine!, and we need to remedy that.

If those of us on the service side of the funding/service equation have a better grip on how our services will meet the goals of acceptance and community contribution, then we can also make a better case for harmonizing funding with services in a way that will truly have a positive impact on individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. Until then, we will always wonder if that number seven will be green the next time we see it.

Then again, what do I know?


  1. Mark, Annette here, and of course I have some comments on items that I do not agree with in your above post.

    I agree with your 2 points of acceptance and productive members of our community.

    How about this, instead of saying "people who find it difficult to learn", what about saying "people who I find challenging to teach".

    That puts the responsibility on you (Imagine!) to question your methods. Since you are an Innovative organization it should elicit a change in the services you deliver.

    The most amazing teachers, I have found, always question what they are doing wrong and how to improve. No judgments are made on people's ability to learn.

    If you have a short conversation with Scott Doyen or Diane Carroll (People skilled in the art of teaching) you will most likely hear them question their methods and look for adjustments or adaptations. They are always up for the challenge to adjust how they think in order to reach a student.

    Frankly, I would be offended if a service provider told me that Chase is difficult to teach. I would immediately question their ability as a teacher. I would have to point out all his amazing qualities and skills that he was able to develop and master, despite that fact that he is surrounded by a community that does not accept him, as well as, teachers that openly expressed doubt about his ability to learn.


  2. Well put. The challenge of meeting paperwork requirements seems to be one of the drains on the system. If this could be addressed at a State level, then perhaps the "paperwork dollars" could be freed up to pay for services that support the acceptance & community contribution goal. In the meantime, here's to green sevens.

  3. Mark,

    The AAIDD definition stresses the need for supports to achieve. Also, the Significant Support Needs Advisory for the Department of Education developed the following description:

    Students with significant support needs are highly diverse learners with extensive needs in the areas of cognition and/or learning, communication, movement and social/emotional abilities. The individual may also have concurrent health, sensory, physical and/or behavioral disabilities. These learners need a wide variety of approaches and supports to demonstrate their knowledge and skills
    intensive instruction in literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills in order to acquire and generalize knowledge. There is more to the definition, and also a rubric for assessing programs. Some of this might be useful and you can find more at

  4. Annette,
    I am not surprised that your comment is spot on. My attempt to draw attention away from a disability did not transfer attention to the teacher as I had hoped. Your clarification does just that. Having a developmental disability (depending on the defining entity; AAIDD, Federal, the various State definitions) is often unrelated to one's ability to learn. In my over-simplification of the end goal in an attempted to understand our various roles was simply meant to point out the missing connection between resources and outcomes. As always, I love your views.