I’ve spent time reflecting about what is to come. What we can plan for; what is unknown. No doubt, leaders in the disability field have also been thinking. At times, the unknown seems so great that it becomes easier to tackle now, today.
For those of you that know me, you may know that in times of uncertainty I dust off great thinkers of times gone by to find wisdom and solace. One work that hangs in my office is the Desiderata, penned by Max Erhmann in 1952. Relevant phrases for me as we are poised at the beginning of 2017 stand out:
I’ll admit – it is not clear to me that the universe is unfolding as it should. From my chair, I see many disability agencies across the United States in financial, organizational, and emotional distress. I observe leaders that are exhausted from Sysiphus syndrome and neither the boulder nor the hill is unyielding. I see people with intellectual disabilities wholly or partially reliant upon third parties to live their lives at blind risk for losing critical services. I see families unprepared for what might come – the re-absorbing of day to day care of their adult family members as funding and service options diminish, and a workforce that is crumbling due to low wages that agencies are required to provide through state contracts for services.
Advocacy as we have known it has, I believe, changed. Why? Because political will may no longer depend upon or be influenced by what constituents say they want, or if the party line is whipped and mandated. Logic and reason and our most compelling force in our arsenal – compassion – falls inert on ears that hear but are not listening. Sure, it might feel good to take a group of well-intentioned people with disabilities and their families to the Hill or to the State House a few times a year- but in the end, does this really make a difference in policy? In votes? Posing this perspective to professional lobbyists in Washington on a recent trip, I received mixed responses. Most admitted that now, all bets are off and that disability advocacy (as it has been done) is directionless if not useless. Only one defended the status quo, quipping that we should all “do our homework” and begin new relationships with those in positions of power. Relationships made may be bi-partisan but face it, the left has always been easier to find philosophical alignment in our field.
And the left has left the building.
Tell me this: who is our disability champion in Congress? Answer: (there is none, especially if Cathy McMorris Rodgers takes the Trump appointment to be Secretary of the Interior). And what does this say about the effectiveness of lobbying by national disability associations at state and federal levels over the past several years?
What can be done? Systems change, unlike elections, take place over time. In the here and now, disability organizations must look to what they can effect, control, and adjust today, tomorrow, and in the relatively near future. We might need to learn to speak a new language, the same language as the new power speaks. Those that will fare the best are those with healthy leaders, management teams in collaborative relationships with their colleagues, diverse funding revenue streams, and great internal communications. These organizations don’t let problems fester and grow. They are balanced – rest, work, life (and if you haven’t read/listened to Shauna Niequist’s latest work on balance, Present Not Perfect, I urge you to do so). They value their staff at all levels of the organization and not just with words on a human resource folder or web page. They celebrate diversity, encourage innovation, reward well-intentioned efforts that turn into mistakes as growth opportunities, and relationships are considered key ROIs. Collaborations with other organizations are nurtured and authentic, and things are done for the right reasons, not solely for financial gain. The very best seek to obtain high happiness levels for their staff, clients, and collaborating peers. If your organization isn’t there yet – take heart. There are tangible things that can be done to help your organization renew and sustain.
I’m thrilled that ao Strategies is helping disability organizations with the here and now. We’ll be there for you in 2017 and for many years to come, working along side of leaders and their teams, giving you our very best talent and technical assistance. We are in a strong position as we enter the new year to make an even greater impact on disability organizations. I hope you’ll enjoy our new website and visit it often to read blogs from our ao Strategies Team Alliance and other guest authors. I hope you’ll take part in our many webinars, and connect with us if you need help with advancing your mission.
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