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Telling New Stories: The Search for Capacity Among People with Severe Handicaps

Telling New Stories: The Search for Capacity Among People with Severe Handicaps

This paper presents two versions of a "story" about a man with severe mental retardation, one from an interdisciplinary team meeting reviewing progress and service needs, and the other prepared by a group of people who know and care about the man and his family and who sought a better response to his situation. The stories differ in the way they were constructed, in their purpose, in their consequences, and in the assumptions they shape about human development and human service organization. The first version assumes that professional people who share very little of the man's daily life can speak the most important words about him, that the man remains the same person in every situation, that the man will be helped if his deficiencies are exhaustively cataloged, that human services exist to change the man, and that reliable and effective service results from hierarchical structures controlled by rational argument among experts who find preexisting answers by standard examination. The second version was used as the basis for discussion in a personal futures planning meeting in which several people took personal responsibility for action steps. It assumes that the man himself and those who share and shape his daily life should be the primary speakers; that his life can only be understood in context; that capacities, interests, and preferences make the foundation of effective help; that human services exist to assist the man by supporting him, his family, and his friends to develop and pursue community opportunities; and that reliable and effective service results from collaboration across organizational boundaries influenced by shared visions and shaped by negotiation of multiple differences. The paper concludes that individuals in the developmental disabilities field must learn to listen to, to tell, and to act on stories whose theme is action to discover capacity.

APA Citation: 

O'Brien, J. and Mount, B. (1989). Telling new stories: The search for capacity among people with severe handicaps. Center on Human Policy, Syracuse University.

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