So, here are some reflections on the ARCA conference, starting with an overview (The previous 8 posts are notes from specific sessions:)
The conference was timely, and the content excellent and diverse in terms of the perspectives of experts from around (mostly outside) our system. Asking Peggy Collins to present a legislative perspective while Kim Rucker presented a client perspective on the same panel was especially inspired and made for an interesting contrast comparison with presenters from outside our system. That panel really clarified both the relevance of nationwide thinking and the criticality of local experience and perception. Julie Jackson did a terrific job in what may have been her public debut as Chief Deputy Director and I overheard many comments from my fellow wee folk reflecting that they looked forward to openness and/or honesty as characteristics that Julie brings to her new position.
So for all of those reasons, Kudos to ARCA and its conference committee for focussing on an important and actionable topic, and for recognizing well voices that our community needs to hear from.
On the other hand, my impression is that some opportunity was let go for now. Disappointments include the fact that so little dialogue was allowed by a dense schedule of presentations. Also, people with disabilities, their families, direct-care staff and service providers were highly underrepresented. There's an unmistakeable irony that the whole point of the conference was that currently available supports are overly prescriptive, unnecessarily limiting and unfairly unaccountable while the conference itself seemed organized around the principle that our community ails from not listening to the grown-ups. Did anyone get a conference evaluation form?
If anyone missed the irony, as I mentioned before, the lunchtime speakers on Tuesday described a perspective that the system is lazy, greedy, uncreative and divisive and that the responsibility of the Regional Centers for this state of affairs is in being overly tolerant. Those speeches also communicated pretty effectively that at least the speakers are contentedly out-of-touch with the community.
To the extent that the two RC directors at that session were intended to represent their peers (and the context suggests that they were) a lot of people will have found support for the idea that the Regional Centers are essentially arrogant and aloof. Many people who have been working for years to better serve clients will conclude that the purpose of the conference was to usurp their effort. As unfair and generally untrue as those messages are, they sure were sent.
A message for those who need it. Just over a year ago, the California Disability Community Action Network began successfully to connect people from this community to speak for themselves. The community has demonstrated that it can speak. About a week ago, the Vendor Advisory Committee of East Los Angeles Regional Center unanimously passed a resolution communicating to the board its willingness for and interest in eliminating barriers to person-centered supports. Countless other events sponsored or led by vendors, people with disabilities, family members and worker organizations sought to innovate the system towards a more reflective, responsive and cost-effective system. Generally, one aspect of these conversations and this conference has been the sense of each group that it is leading while everyone else stands around vainly defending the status quo and their own empires.
This conference was important, valuable and in many ways reflects the intelligence and determination of its organizers. It was an important milestone but the start of nothing. The events which recognize the unity of the entire community around an evolving, improving system; and which elevates dialogue above presentation will be the true dawn.