Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Where Is Everyone?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending both the Coleman Institute’s Conference on Cognitive Disability and Technology and the ANCOR & AAIDD Technology Summit and Showcase.

I use the word “privilege” very intentionally. For the past decade (and more), Colorado has been at the epicenter for the confluence of technology and services for people with a variety of intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). We are so fortunate to be able to experience firsthand what’s new, what’s next, and what we can expect in the future of service delivery. We can see the latest and greatest tools and techniques being used and learn and share our ideas with each other.

Yet, each year as I marvel at how fortunate Imagine! is to be able to attend and participate in these conferences, I also find myself astonished at who isn’t attending these events. Despite the huge number of service providers in our state, very few of them have a presence at either conference. Even less represented are our state policy makers.

This lack of local representation from providers and policy makers baffles and disturbs me. Like it or not, what is being presented at these conference represents the future of services. They let us know where we’re going and what we need to do to prepare. Those providing the services absolutely need to know what is coming down the pipeline so they can plan appropriately, and our policy makers need to be aware of new approaches and technologies so they are able to provide rules and regulations that match the reality of services now and into the future.

I’m sure some of those who may recognize themselves in my comments above would respond with some version of “I’m too busy” or “we don’t have the resources to attend.” Both reasons are valid, but only to a degree. At some point, every organization (provider or regulator) has to take some time to look beyond the immediate.

I am reminded of Stephen R Covey’s seventh habit in his landmark book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" - “Sharpening the Saw.” This powerful idea is best described by Covey's word-picture:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

"What are you doing?" you ask. 

"Can't you see?" comes the impatient reply. "I'm sawing down this tree." 

"You look exhausted!" you exclaim. "How long have you been at it?" 

"Over five hours," he returns, "and I'm beat! This is hard work." 

"Well why don't you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?" you inquire. "I'm sure it would go a lot faster." 

"I don't have time to sharpen the saw," the man says emphatically. "I'm too busy sawing!" 

In Covey’s book, “Sharpening the Saw” is about renewing oneself. But I think it applies to organizations as well. Those organizations and policy makers in the I/DD field who aren’t taking the time and effort to learn about what is happening (tech-wise or otherwise) that is making our services more efficient and effective risk becoming the man sawing the tree – their work gets harder and harder, and the returns are diminished with each stroke.

I know I’m pointing a finger here, but I feel strongly about this. I fear too many in our field aren’t embracing progress. Maybe they feel that since what we’re doing has worked before, it should still work fine now. That simply isn’t true. The world, and technology, has changed monumentally in the past twenty years. The environment we operate in now bears very little resemblance to the one we were in just a few short years ago. What we can do and what we are expected to do when providing services for folks with I/DD is very different today than it was at the turn of this century. Pleading that you are too busy or can’t make the effort to figure out how to operate in this new environment isn’t acceptable anymore.

I hope to see a lot more providers and policy makers at next year’s events, armed with saws ready to be sharpened!

Then again, what do I know?

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