November 2023
ICI's Amy Hewitt speaks from a lectern in Taiwan. The lecture hall, and the audience, is large. Some audience members are wearing surgical masks.

ICI's Amy Hewitt spoke recently at a conference in Taiwan that was focused on inclusive community living for people with disabilities.

Institute on Community Integration director Amy Hewitt and Kelly Nye-Lengerman, director of the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire, recently helped lead a conference in Taichung City, Taiwan that was focused on inclusive community living for people with disabilities.

A 2019 book they edited, Community Living and Participation for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was recently translated into Mandarin Chinese, prompting the invitation by the Maria Social Welfare Foundation to speak on different aspects of inclusion at the conference. In south Taiwan, Hewitt and Nye-Lengerman also visited several service and program providers, including programs similar to U.S. day programs, that are operated by the foundation.

Hewitt shared the latest U.S. statistics and strategies on self-determination, residential and in-home supports, aging, and the direct support workforce. Nye-Lengerman , a former director of ICI’s Community Living and Employment focus area and a University of Minnesota graduate, discussed employment strategies and person-centered planning for people with disabilities.

A critical aspect of the conference was bringing providers together to coalesce around a movement to increase community services in Taiwan. While there are community supports in Taiwan, they are not the predominant model of support.

“Just as we are in the United States, they are struggling to find staff to work in disability services due to low wages, demographics, and the difficulty of the work compared to similar-paying jobs,” Hewitt said. Taiwan’s extensive use of robotics in food and hospitality service pave the way for using the technology in residential and employment support services for people with disabilities there, she said.

Meeting with service providers, Hewitt and Nye-Lengerman observed a retail café staffed in part with people with disabilities from local day programs who learned skills such as using a cash register, serving food, providing customer service, and cooking, among others. They were earning money while completing a training internship. Many of them go on to other competitive jobs in the community.

“I was impressed by the training programs we observed that actually led to competitive employment,” Hewitt said. “The entrepreneurial drive of the organizations was compelling. They owned community businesses that employed people without and people with disabilities.”

Hewitt and Nye-Lengerman both said they were struck by the relative importance of community and family needs and desires, compared with the more individualistic framework common in the United States.

“Community and family were at the forefront and individual needs were met in the context of their community and family,” Hewitt said.

People with disabilities speaking for themselves and not being represented by a family member or a service provider was thus a novel idea, Nye-Lengerman said.

“It’s a cultural difference, and some aspects of advocacy and self-advocacy are not there yet, but that was part of the goal Amy and I had for spending time there because they share many of our values and ideas, but were looking for some inspirational strategies to move forward.”

There were also differences in perspective on the number of people served in different settings, Hewitt said.

“We saw one program that in the United States would be called an institution, but it did not feel, smell, or look like an institution,” she said. “It was more like a one-stop shop for meeting the needs of people with disabilities and other community members. Many different social services were available in the same building, allowing individuals and families to get all their needs met in one place, with a transportation hub right there.”

Despite the differences, it was heartening to observe the enthusiasm building for competitive employment among people with disabilities, Nye-Lengerman said.

“We observed strong familial commitments to ‘taking care of’ relatives with disabilities, but we met some families who were open, curious, and committed to increasing the inclusion of people with intellectual disability in all areas of community life, including employment,” she said. “Their community living consortium has made a great deal of progress to create space for planning and conversations around inclusion and access.”