Jennifer Sulewski, Institute on Community Inclusion
By Jennifer Sulewski, Institute for Community Inclusion, University of Massachusetts-Boston
The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI), in partnership with ANCOR and the Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE), is in the process of designing and testing a Community Life Engagement (CLE) Guidepost Fidelity Scale (GFS).
What is Community Life Engagement?
Community life engagement, or CLE, refers to access to and participation in the community as part of a meaningful day. CLE activities may include volunteer work; postsecondary, adult, or continuing education; accessing community facilities such as a local library, gym, or recreation center; participation in retirement or senior activities; and anything else people with and without disabilities do in their off-work time, including faith-based activities such as membership at a church or synagogue. Importantly, we define CLE as an outcome, not a service type. Day services and supports may lead to CLE outcomes or not, depending on how they are designed and offered. That is where the Four Guideposts come in.
Four Guideposts for Community Life Engagement
Over the past 20 years, our research team has been studying approaches to day services and supports that lead to CLE. This research has included:
Surveys of both state intellectual and developmental disability agencies and service providers on how they define and offer non-work, day services.
Case studies of service providers that have been effective in supporting CLE outcomes.
Expert interviews with state agency administrators, local service providers, researchers, people with I/DD, and family members.
Development and pilot testing of a CLE Toolkit for service providers.
Throughout this research, we have identified four Guideposts for Success in Community Life Engagement:
Individualize supports for each person. Get to know each person’s preferences, goals, interests, and skills using person-centered planning, and use creative approaches to grouping, staffing, and scheduling to individualize supports.
Promote community membership and contribution. Seek out inclusive settings and activities; emphasize not just presence, but membership and contribution; and ensure staff know how to support the individual without getting in the way of connections with other community members.
Use human and social capital to decrease dependence on paid supports. Make connections with other community members to create natural supports. Teach skills for accessing community activities with less need for staff support.
Ensure that supports are outcome-oriented and regularly monitored. Collect and use data on outcomes such as life satisfaction, community membership, belonging, and contribution. Emphasize these goals rather than specific processes or approaches.
Our aim with the GFS is to help service providers better understand how well their day services and supports adhere to the Four Guideposts and identify potential areas for improvement. We are currently halfway through a three-year research project to develop this scale. Starting from an existing self-assessment tool that we had developed for the CLE Toolkit, we generated additional survey questions by reviewing other existing assessment tools. We then gathered input from our Project Leadership Team (which includes representation from ICI, ANCOR, APSE, and the State Employment Leadership Network [SELN]) and from a panel of self-advocates. Next, we convened a Delphi panel of experts to review the GFS and narrow it down from 126 items to 72.
Our next step is to test the GFS with a sample of 300 service provider personnel, and that is where you come in! We need organizations that provide day services and supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to try out this instrument. By testing it out in the real world, we can further improve on the scale and make it more useful.
What Are We Asking From You?
If you are willing to participate in testing of the GFS, we will ask you to identify five or more of your staff who are familiar with your day services. Those 5 staff will complete the online GFS, which should take about a half-hour per staff member.
As a “thank you” for contributing to this effort, you will gain early access to ICI’s CLE Online Modules for Direct Support Professionals. These interactive and accessible training modules introduce staff to the concept of community life engagement, the Four Guideposts, and techniques they can use to increase CLE for the individuals they support.