Monday, July 14, 2014

A New Declaration

July seems like a good month to talk about declarations.

The particular declaration I’d like to talk about isn’t the Declaration of Independence, but it is a declaration that may well lead to more independence for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The declaration I am talking about is the Declaration on the Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access.

I first wrote about this declaration on my blog back in October, 2013. The declaration is a statement of principles: the rights of ALL people to inclusion and choice in relation to technology and information access.

Since that time, my colleagues and I have been evangelizing in many different ways about this important and game changing declaration. Many of us at Imagine! have endorsed the declaration individually, and Imagine! has endorsed it as an organization. Imagine! representatives have featured the declaration in presentations delivered across the nation, and we have highlighted the declaration prominently on our website and through our many social media channels.

We have also worked to incorporate the declaration into our everyday activities, as well as into our own set of rights for the individuals we serve. Having the very tangible goal of technology access for the individuals we serve provides a foundation for a new way of thinking and discussing services. It has helped us to think more creatively when considering how services are to be delivered in the future, and the declaration is turning into a self perpetuating force as it becomes more ingrained in our organizational culture.

The declaration continues to gain momentum outside of Imagine!, as well. I am pleased to note that it has been endorsed by Alliance, Colorado’s statewide association of Community Centered Boards (CCBs) and Service Provider Organizations (SPOs). And this past March, the Colorado State Legislature became the first legislative body in the nation to endorse the declaration.

The forward movement toward a more universal acceptance of the principles outlined in the declaration is encouraging, but we still have a long way to go.

So, what’s next?

First, I think we need to be clear that declaring the right to technology access isn’t the same as an automatic guarantee that every technology will instantly be given to anyone who wants or needs it. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a free press, but that doesn’t mean the government is going to give me my own TV station.

That being said, the more technology becomes part of the conversation, the more we can change our thinking to incorporate technology into our planning as we design and implement new service models. I am proud of being a citizen of the first state to formally adopt the declaration, but I’d urge them to go further – let’s make Colorado a “Technology First” state, a state in which we look at technology options for service delivery first before looking at other service options. Let’s examine how we fund services, and be sure to create payment mechanisms for technologies that have the potential to create new and exciting opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

I think that goal is easily within our reach, and the more we can spread the word about the declaration, the more chance we have to reach that goal. So if you haven’t already, please endorse the declaration, either as an individual or on behalf of the organization you work for or support (or both). Let the world know that the community of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the organizations and caregivers who serve them are united in the belief that all individuals have a right to access comprehensible information and usable communication technologies to promote self-determination and engage meaningfully in major aspects of life.

More importantly, no matter what your role in our field is, make the effort personally to ensure the declaration is a living, breathing document by studying, implementing, testing, and refining technology options in services in whatever capacity you are able.

Together, we can create a world where this declaration won’t need to exist because the rights enumerated within will be held as self evident to all. Technology can, and will, break down many of the remaining barriers that have historically prevented individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from fully realizing their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Then again, what do I know?

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