Giving People a Voice

Missing Voices

Having a voice is important. Yet, the forums for giving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities a voice are still and sadly few and far between. Many of the people we support have been classified as “problematic.” These negative reputations are often based on their efforts to communicate. Their persistence at communicating sadness, frustration, anger, confusion, are often interpreted as negative “behaviors.” Having a resource that allows people to use their voices to help promote change is important. Tennessee’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) strives to provide one resource through their  Focus Group.

Focus Group-A Vital Resource for Tennessee

The Focus group is a quarterly meeting for people who receive supports through the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Tennessee. This resource was developed out of a conversation lamenting that people supported by the system seldom have a voice in how the system works. Support staff, advocates, Individual Support Coordinator’s and Providers are also welcome to attend these meetings.

An Instrument for Positive Change

Over the years, the Focus group has evolved. It has provided many different resources to people including opportunities to develop relationships, employment opportunities in the community, an open forum to express feelings, discussion about what people desire in the supports they receive, and celebration of holidays. The holiday celebrations are always some of the most popular meetings. Celebrations can include karaoke, dancing, singing, and instrument playing. Fun aside, the most role of the Focus Group has been to generate change. The Focus Group was instrumental in changing how day services work and in creating semi-independent living as an additional service option.

Bios of Tennessee Influences the Focus Group

Interestingly, Bios played a key role in the creation of the Focus Group for the Middle Region. The first meeting held in middle Tennessee was in 2012. It involved 12 people sitting around a conference room table. As of 2019, the meetings have grown to include an average of 150 people. There are now Focus Groups in all three regions of Tennessee. For the past seven years, Bios has  been well represented at these meetings. We make it a priority to ensure people are supported in accessing this advocacy platform.  People supported by Bios have spoken publicly, shared their musical talents and shared their visual arts.

An Interview with Robert

Our friend Robert has attended the Focus Group meetings over the years. He has also done public speaking at a few of the meetings as well. For this article, I spoke to Robert about what the Focus group means to him.

Chris: When did you start attending DIDD Focus Group meetings?

Robert: I have been going to the Focus Group meetings since they first started having them.

Chris: There are a lot of different topics covered at the Focus Group meetings, what has been your favorite?

Robert: A long time ago, I spoke at one of the meetings. I was the speaker for the whole meeting. That was my favorite.
Chris: I remember that meeting! Do you remember what you talked about?

Robert: I talked about my story and how far I have come since I first had staff. I told everyone how much I appreciate Bios for all they have done for me in my life. I also told everybody about my Staff and everybody else’s staff needing more money. They help me and they help other people and they don’t get the

Chris: What do you love most about the Focus Group meetings?

Robert: I really like that those meetings give us a voice to talk about the things that bother us and the things that are going good for us. I like that we can talk about our life and how far we have come.

How to Participate

Bios of Tennessee sends out notices of upcoming Focus Group meetings  and meeting times are posted in our offices. The Focus Group is a wonderful activity for fellowship, advocacy, learning and most importantly giving a voice to those who live within the system to help make changes to that system.

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