During these unprecedented times, Community Connections has joined the concerted community effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. ​

Challenging Historical Perceptions of Inclusion - 7.28.21

Thirty-one years the American with Disabilities Act was adopted, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities still do not have equal rights in the United States. While we have made some progress as a society, prejudices persist. Jeff Newman, Director of Community Integration at Community Connections, is on a mission to change that mindset.

“Until people with disabilities are truly and equitably at the table making decisions about what services should look like, we are still not reaching our goal of inclusion,” said Newman. “We have a whole system of disability support services, built from the top to bottom, that has not included disabled people in building that system. We need disabled leadership, a critical mass of disabled employees, and input from disabled people at all levels of this system if we are ever going to see this change. I am both proud and excited that Community Connections shares these values and is taking active steps to platform, empower, and employ the disabled leaders that will be the future of creating an equitable system.” 

Founded in 1985, Community Connections is a non-profit dedicated to creating opportunities for children and adults with disabilities to lead healthy and fulfilling lives in Southwest Colorado. The organization seeks to empower people with disabilities to live life on their own terms and envisions a community where all people have the same opportunities and sense of inclusion.

The definition of inclusion is “the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.” 

Newman’s involvement with Community Connections began in 2013 as a member of the Board of Directors. He accepted a paid Case Manager position in 2015 and assumed his current role in 2020, which includes advocating for society to recognize and embrace the values, gifts, talents, and personalities of people with disabilities. 

“I want society to put aside their ideas of stigmatism, incapability, pity and burden when they see someone with a disability and accept that we all have the same desires, motivations and goals in life. We should all have the autonomy and support to access lives that we value, rather than lives decided for us,” said Newman.

Newman’s desire to change the status quo is personal because he identifies as Autistic, which provides insight into the needs of the 20% of the U.S. population living with disabilities. Despite the stigma and hostility he experienced as part of the first generation of special education students given mainstream access to classrooms, Newman feels he had many advantages that positioned him to serve others like him and make a difference in their lives.

One of Newman’s proudest accomplishments is the development of a Leadership and Advocacy class. Through this class, Newman set out to empower people with disabilities to do their own advocacy work. For one project, students reached out to the local transportation office to identify sidewalks that needed repair for better wheelchair access. 

“As a class this Spring, we called the Governor’s office and State House and Senate officials to demand that disabled people enrolled in Home and Community Based Services be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on the same timetable as their support staff. Within 4 days, the State of Colorado announced they would make this change. The students in this class are learning the true power their voice has,” Newman said.

Through Newman’s work and with Community Connections leading the way for discussions about inclusion, Southwest Colorado and the State are becoming more receptive to the needs of people with disabilities and seeking their input in decision-making. While there is still much work to be done, these efforts are steps in the right direction toward inclusion.