Inclusion in Rochester with Barbara Wale, CEO, Arc of Monroe
Written by Alison Cundy, Staff at Arc of Monroe
I had the good fortune to sit down with Barb Wale and hear her experiences working with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also shared her views on inclusion in the Rochester area.
Barb began her career forty years ago as a Speech Pathologist and recalls how at that time the community seemed more afraid of people who had disabilities. Maybe they were uncomfortable with people who were different and weren’t sure how to interact, or what to say. Town residents were reluctant to have group homes in their residential neighborhoods because they thought it would drive down home values. Whatever the reason, people appeared less accepting.
Barb feels that much has changed since then and people are more welcoming today. Why? She hypothesizes that because of the rise of autism and discussion around this important topic people are more comfortable with disabilities in general. “I think it is also the result of people [with disabilities being out] in the community more. When someone visits a store or a restaurant and the person working there interacts with them, they see someone who has talents, skills and abilities. They see a person can make choices. They can begin to form a relationship with the person. Once they see the fact that a person can answer their question or can make a choice, they suddenly feel differently about [them]. They see a person who can talk with them. They probably go home to talk about it.”
In addition, educating the public on autism and other disabilities has helped eradicate some of the stigma. People with disabilities are in schools, sit next to you at church, and work at the local grocery store. They are valued community participants. The positive impact of inclusion has resulted in an increased comfort level overall.
Barb’s own two sons worked summers alongside her, but this was not typical for most children. She wonders how her grandchildren will learn about people with disabilities. Here in Monroe County some schools offer inclusive clubs and sports which provide the opportunity for people with and without disabilities to work together and create friendships. Barb’s granddaughters live in another city and she hopes they can have those same experiences, but if not she is more than willing to travel there and talk to their schools.
Employer or neighborhood, Barb remarks how supportive every facet of each town has been in recent years. Today the Rochester community is more inclusive than ever and we will strive to provide even more opportunities moving forward.