Mark’s Blog – Posting 1

REPOST – Original Post on Aug 19, 2013

(Mark Shaffer, the Executive Director of UCP of SLO County will be doing an intermittent blog to talk about some of the history of UCP, his history with UCP and various other aspects of his last 25 years working with people with disabilities in SLO County. Come back here to find more blogs by various UCP employees, C.I.P. Tour summaries, Leisure Club happenings and more.)
I have been the Executive Director of United Cerebral Palsy of San Luis Obispo County for 25 years and a Special Education Adult Education Teacher for 7 years before establishing UCP in our county. People often ask me how I got involved in the field of supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities. They expect that I have a family member who has a disability. Let me share why I am so passionate about helping people with disabilities to participate in their community.

I grew up in Riverside, Connecticut and an adult with developmental disabilities lived in the house behind us. As a child, I did not understand why this adult was living with his parents and getting on a yellow school bus each day. This was forty years ago. It was a time when parents whose baby was diagnosed as “retarded” were told by their doctors to put the child in an institution and try to have another baby. State institutions were filled with children with disabilities who were isolated from the world.

About thirty years ago, parents and professionals realized that all people benefit from being part of their community. We began to see that our fear for the safety of adults with disabilities was a major barrier to their growth. We also realized that all children need to grow up in their families. This shift in our thinking led to moving people out of institutions and keeping babies in their families.

When I started as an Adult Education Teach for adults with developmental disabilities, my students rarely went out into their community, except to the doctor’s office or their day program. Over the past thirty years, I have watched these same people move into their own apartment and get jobs. Now that we have let go of protecting them, they are leading independent lives with minimal support. They are less dependent of governmental funding and very happy to be fully participating in their communities. They have begun to take control of changing their own lives.

I have been very fortunate to be a part of this movement to free people with developmental disabilities from their concerned families and professionals. We now let them do what we all do…learn by making mistakes. Our communities are learning that people with disabilities are people who just want to be a part of their community. Like all movements, we still have a long way to go. We need to hire more people with disabilities. We need to include more children with disabilities in regular classes. I believe we need to stop every once in a while and celebrate our progress…and then get back to work.

– Mark Shaffer

Executive Director – UCP of San Luis Obispo County