On a recent trip to the Kawartha region, I took some time to ponder ‘What is it that makes me so passionate about being an independent facilitator?’ I felt this was an important question to reflect upon as decisions around how to provide Independent Facilitation and keep it alive are being explored across the province. This question quickly lead me to consider several of the key principles of the work:
- intentional network development (e.g. support circles)
- the notion of embracing community as a first resource
Reflecting further on the question, I recalled how excited I was when I first read a job ad for an Independent Facilitator that highlighted the role of ‘supporting people in self-determination to build a good life in their community.’ I knew from my own lived experience that fostering a person’s self-determination is the start to planning a good life for everyone.
There was a time when I was going through a personal struggle with my life at work and someone asked me the question “what do you want?” That question stopped me dead in my tracks. It was the first time I had really considered that I had choices around the direction I was headed in. It was through this kind of support around self-determination that I realized I was able to participate in the process of navigating my own personal journey.
My ‘a-ha moment’ around personal choice lead to a deeper personal awareness. I realized that I was living my life based on old beliefs that were not serving me well. Belief systems are often handed down through generations and incorporated into personal operating systems unknowingly. Although we have a voice, true self-determination does not happen within an unconscious operating system. Fostering a person’s self-determination occurs when people authentically have control over their life and can move forward, take action, and reflect on what is means to live a personally meaningful life.
As an Independent Facilitator, the question ‘what makes me passionate …’ encouraged me to dig deeper. I wanted to know how my lived experience matched up against the empirical evidence around self-determination.
Wehmeyer and Abery (2013) reviewed research findings on self-determination and choice for individuals experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities. They discovered a link between an individual’s lack of self-determination and having fewer opportunities to make choices. There was also consensus that “efforts to promote community inclusion and quality of life need to include efforts to promote and support self-determination.” The two work hand in hand!
Recently, I heard a member of a person’s support circle comment on how she had noticed that Independent Facilitation always fostered a person’s self-determination and how this framed the intention of the support circle. Consequently, unimaginable outcomes were realized, often a result of thinking outside the box. Wehmeyer and Abery (2013) also identified that self-determination is often exercised within the context of relationships; hence, interactions should be less focused on changing the person (e.g. skill development), and more focused on changing the environment with an appreciation of the uniqueness of individuals.
As an Independent Facilitator, I walk alongside individuals and their families with the intent of nurturing self-determination and relationships in community. I notice opportunities for contribution in community, always ensuring that it is the individual that self-directs their life.
Not surprisingly, my question around my personal passion for the work led me to contemplating the future. There are many individuals, families, and allies coming together to engage in conversations around person-directed funding. I believe people are drawn to these discussions, as this is a primary way that individuals and families can be empowered to have control over their lives. But it is also necessary for the work of Independent Facilitation.
Much has been learned through the Independent Facilitation Demonstration Project (IFDP) in an effort to measure the true benefit of the work. Through this, we cannot forget the underlying principles that make our work unique.
Self-determination honours free choice, a human right that has been a key focus in many historical struggles that resulted in change. I want to suggest that we don’t just learn from our struggles – that we also learn from the joy and expansion that has occurred.
To show the true benefits of Independent Facilitation, many participants of the IFDP have had their stories collected and shared. More importantly, people are starting to tell their stories themselves. They are celebrating the change that Independent Facilitation has cultivated in their lives. A common thread in all of the stories is that the true work happens only in a participant’s community of choice where community is fully embraced as the first resource.
I am passionate about this work because it recognizes that citizenship is everybody’s right, and, as citizens, we join together to celebrate each other’s gifts and talents. This is the joy that is often depicted in stories of change, and this is the underlying joy that makes me deeply passionate about the work!
Wendy Woodhouse is an Independent Facilitator with Facile Independent Facilitation working in the Grey Bruce Region. She is well known as a ‘community connector’ and has extensive experience in networking and fostering dialogue around inclusive communities.
Wehmeyer, M. L., & Abery, B. H. (2013). Self Determination and choice. Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, 51 (5), 399-411