Change happens when people realise that the lives of disabled people have become stuck. Generally, they have become stuck within the very systems designed to support them to grow, learn and develop. It is only when we come to realise that more is possible, that the life opportunities being offered to disabled people are not good enough that we are compelled to imagine better and to move towards what is possible.

This requires that we have vision or a picture of what is perceived as being possible in life. To improve vision, you really need to imagine it, to picture it. Imagining better is the beginning of finding better in the lives of people. To imagine better requires that we change the stereotypes and assumptions that have surrounded the lives of people with disabilities. That we place our focus on the competencies and abilities that people have rather than placing our emphasis on the struggles and challenges.

Just imagine, if instead of presuming incompetence we were always to presume competence in people. By presuming competence and providing supports, encouragement and opportunities for people to demonstrate what they are capable of, we create different expectations within themselves and their families about what they are capable of doing and being and create different expectations in others about what might be possible for their lives. After all, people will live up to the expectations that others hold of them, if you hold low or no expectations then don’t be surprised that people will live up to that. By holding few expectations, we deny people the opportunity to take up those life opportunities that not only enable them to demonstrate their competencies but also provide them the bridge to relationships and real participation in the valued fabric of social life.

However, the opposite of course can also be true. If we are not clear, or do not struggle to become clear about what could be possible, if we hold no vision or a very weak vision, then it is very easy for us to be driven this way and that depending on what is happening at the time, who is advising us and our energy for engaging in the challenges. That is, if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything. Indeed, the reason that we have already come so far is because there have been people, largely families, such as we have heard from most of our speakers today, who have refused to accept reality as it is, or as it is presented to us.

So, you can see that holding onto a vision is not a trivial act. If your vision passes the test you will have a powerful tool that will change lives. Vision is key in keeping hope alive, and we must never let hope for what could be better die. Indeed, hope is more important and powerful than money.

Whenever we hold a powerful vision for a life that is better, we embrace hope, we look beyond the moment, to the promise of what life might yet offer. We begin to embrace a true realism, a realism that is life enhancing rather than life denying.

To pursue the vision, we must have clarity of the underlying values. The conversation today brought to mind for me some of the life affirming principles that Michael Kendrick speaks of – I can’t remember them all of course, but they would include:

1. Recognizing the Humanity and Dignity of People; No Matter What Their Impairments
2. The Dignity Of all people being able to express their Human Will, Freedom and autonomy
3. People Will Thrive Best When the Fullness of Community Is Available to Them
4. Growth Is Ever Possible and Brings Greater Life

To conclude then, the key messages for me from today are that so much of what is important in life requires vision, values and faith. As many people with disabilities have demonstrated for us, it often requires that we believe in something before it comes true. If we don’t have faith then we won’t do any of the great things that need to be done, because we do not believe; we will not put ourselves out there; we won’t take a risk. We must be sincerely convinced within ourselves or we will always defer committed action, and when it is the hopes and dreams of life that become deferred or ignored, then life itself and its potentials will fade.

– This piece is taken from the closing keynote speech by Lorna Sullivan from our Conference Family Leadership and Personal Budgets held in Dublin, on May 28th, 2018. Lorna Sullivan is Director of the Disabled People and Whanau supporting Team, Ministry of Health, New Zealand.