Living Among Peers

A “peer” is defined as a person who is equal to another in abilities, qualifications, background, and social status.

As an adolescent most of us look forward to and expect a future living with and being part of a community of peers. We anticipate being able to freely interact, hang out and engage in enjoyable activities with these people, our peers.  Not surprisingly then, living as independently as possible and being able to live among peers is among the most important values and goals shared by people with disabilities, their families, and advocates (www.arc.org). 

However, across the U.S. people with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), are often socially isolated and have few recreational and vocational options. This is, in large part, due to non-ideal housing that has insufficient transportation, few vocational/avocational supports, and limited social options. 

Fearing the stigma of segregation, many well-meaning people are still fighting to integrate this vulnerable population into the community alongside typically developed adults.  And to be sure, isolating adults with disabilities from the general population is rarely, if ever, a sensible goal.  But, despite the best intentions of caregivers, many individuals with disabilities living among typically-developing neighbors, perhaps in a group home or a supported living arrangement, are very often not part of a community of chosen peers, nor are they truly integrated among or interactive with their neighbors. 

Do they get invited to the block parties, neighborhood barbecues or local events?  Can they spend spontaneous, comfortable and enjoyable time with their neighbors?  Are they really living among chosen peers?  Too often, the answer to these questions is No.

“Integrated” adults with I/DD are instead hidden in plain sight, often social outcasts among neighbors who are, at best, tolerant and supportive, but rarely are these adults engaged in social or recreational interactions with their neighbors whose interests, desires and focus often differ substantially from their own.  Many adults with disabilities who are integrated into the community at large may not be segregated from the general population, but they are certainly not living among peers.   

Care providers and health professionals who support and treat adults with disabilities routinely confront the lack of social, recreational, vocational/volunteer opportunities and engagement for the adults with disabilities in their care.  And there are often countless obstacles to achieving their desired goals in these areas (e.g., lack of transportation, lack of structure/support, difficulty finding accessible resources).  As a result, mental health and quality of life suffer for many of these adults. Many adults with disabilities would thrive emotionally, mentally and physically if they could instead live in a community where they can be independent (to the extent possible), be among a variety of possible peers, and more easily access varied social/recreational events and vocational/volunteer resources.  Research has shown that reducing social isolation and increasing vocational/volunteer engagement decreases depression and anxiety among all individuals, including those with disabilities.  Living in a community as independently as possible and among peers can increase confidence, enhance quality of life and mental health, and assist in meeting the needs of the adult with a disability.  Residential options for living communities like this are lacking for adults with disabilities, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Cottage Foundation is pleased to share that the first “pocket neighborhood” for adults with developmental and acquired disabilities is being developed with a “fee simple home ownership model” in partnership with ECC Management – a real estate developer. This first “cottage community” called Luna Azul will be built in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Such a planned living community sounds wonderful!! People with disabilities who work in the general community can come home to a supportive environment and relax from the challenges of their day. Being able to go next door to see your friends is a wonderful opportunity for those who have reported great loneliness in the regular community.”  Comment from parent of a disabled adult

To help move the idea of these neighborhoods forward click here to make a tax-deductible contribution to the Cottage Foundation. www.cottagefoundation.org. The Cottage Foundation is a new non-profit formed for the purpose of making low-cost loans to those developing these kinds of neighborhoods.

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