Inclusive Classrooms: Benefits to Delarc and SUNY Delhi
The Arc of Delaware County is an extraordinary organization that is nationally renowned for their skills, commitment, and passion within the professional field of developmental and intellectual disabilities. The “caring without restraint” philosophy of the agency is the foundation of Delarc, based on their positive and proactive teaching philosophy of no restraints; Delarc alone has a strict Board of Directors policy that forbids the use of restraints that demonstrates a true person-centered approach to service. However, this philosophy requires resources in order to implement.
While other human services agencies seek Delarc out for training and consulting, within the organization staff and clients are seeking to develop and meet personal goals (making new friends, improving academic abilities to be more independent, learning skills to maintain employment, developing people skills, taking a class with people of the same age, becoming more involved in the local community) on an individual basis in a process that is truly person-centered. In order to meet many of these goals, it is necessary to get assistance from the community to provide appropriate experiences and opportunities for interaction with others. With the engagement of SUNY Delhi’s students and staff, many of the person-centered goals that are considered unrealistic and/or impractical at other human service organizations become real – significantly changing the lives of those involved. In the words of Delarc’s Stephen Finkel in a letter to Commissioner Burke at the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, “…There is a community at large everywhere that will be receptive and welcoming to people with disabilities if we care about developing programs that truly give our folks the training and opportunity to be part of those communities in a meaningful and rewarding way for all.” The Delarc/SUNY Delhi collaboration is one of these opportunities.
SUNY Delhi benefits from this collaboration in numerous tangible and intangible ways, as demonstrated in reflection papers/projects, personal conversations, and course evaluations. Many students who choose the Delarc experience speak and write about the powerful changes that take place as they work through their experiences, and often state it was the most memorable or important aspect of their time at SUNY Delhi.
Even in our educated societies, many students still experience and display attitudes of stigma and fear when interacting with individuals who are different from them; in this case, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. We know that the most effective way to change attitudes, which are based on our values and beliefs, is to provide ongoing positive experiences with the culture, population, or activity that is feared. Because so many of these college students are going to go on to be leaders in other higher education settings and in their workplaces, they are an ideal group of people to first experience these changes in themselves, and then become role models for their peers, coworkers, and families.
With this Delarc partnership, students become more confident in their ability to engage in new situations with people who have different skills and abilities. Students become more creative in the ways that they solve problems. Students begin (or continue) to understand that small changes in the way they treat others dramatically affects outcomes. Students experience insights about how they personally can make an impact in their communities and learn that their personal choices matter. Students see that differences in communication and labels do NOT matter in the big picture; we are all people and deserve to be treated fairly and respectfully.
During the educational process, it is important for students to associate course material with other personal experiences outside the classroom. If students use their experiences and are making connections between course content and their real world, learning has truly occurred. This is a process that is clearly taking place with the Delarc partnership. Individually, students benefit. As an institution, SUNY Delhi becomes more diverse and tolerant – making it a stronger institution as learners and employees learn about the value of differences in the building of a strong community.