Want to meet some great people who make up the human face and fabric of rural life? Then I can recommend going on the road and heading out of the metro area with your “work’ hat on. Over the past 18 months I have had the pleasure of doing exactly that, visiting several towns and communities across South Australia – and even getting to go back to the same places a few times over. And the best bit about these trips has been engaging with people living with disability and family caregivers within the workshops and discussions.
The repeat visits have been a good way to hear about developments and trends in these communities and to see how people with lived experience of disability and their family members are choosing to get involved in their local area to make the most of contemporary possibilities.
Some have decided to contribute time and attention to developing more inclusive public spaces and facilities – in liaison with their local government associations.
Others are looking at how they might step up to fill local gaps in services themselves.
And some are seeing and wanting to develop further the big picture opportunities for their community’s local economy by stimulating conversations between more stakeholders.
And pretty much everyone I met was needing to advocate for their own or a loved one’s goals in the process of pursuing community access and participation.
All these levels of promoting positive changes are valuable and complement each other really. But change can be slower than desired. It can be frustrating when the progress towards more person-centredness seems to be crawling along on a person-by-person, situation-by-situation pace. And even with the massive system change that has occurred in the disability sector nationally, there is an ongoing need for positive and intentional actions within our communities if people with disability are to actually experience their best life and fair access to participation.
Each action that people take in rural (or metro) areas to help build inclusive communities can be thought of as helping to unlock a figurative “gate” and nudging it open to create a little more access to the field of opportunity and possibilities beyond previous limits. Because on the other side of whichever obstructive “business as usual” gate that is faced, lies the person-centred heart space and flexible head space of the people involved. And when people on both sides of the equation – those using a system and those providing services in that system – engage heads and hearts then humane and adaptable solutions can emerge between them to get around challenges, to reduce barriers.
Indeed, it has been very encouraging to see that “ordinary” people in rural areas – just as in metro – are choosing to show-up tenaciously as leaders, advocates and pathfinders within their local communities.