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National Service and Inclusion Project

Inclusion: The active engagement of people with disabilities as service members in all levels of national and community service

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Photo of Pete Anderson Participants: Peter Anderson

Program: AmeriCorps*VISTA, 1994-1996 ; AmeriCorps Promise Fellow, 1999-2000, Washington.
Service: Developed and participated in programs and activities focusing on improving education, health, and safety at a section 8 housing development; developed a service-learning project as a Promise Fellow.
Currently the director of Vancouver Housing Authority Statewide VISTA Program.

Interview with Pete Anderson, November, 2000



1. INCLUSION:              real audio clip icon

EMILY MILLER: If you were a program coordinator and someone came into your program and identified as someone who had Attention Deficit Disorder or was a recovering alcoholic, I'm wondering what you know kind of insight do you have how would you approach that situation or what kind of understanding you would have?

PETE ANDERSON: Well, as a recruiter, I look for people with disabilities. Because there’s so much talent there that's been overlooked and always will be overlooked unless people open up the doors and educate the mainstream that it’s a big loss to the community when people with disabilities are not accepted into programs. Because there is so much talent there, and there's so much energy. People with disabilities; recovering alcoholics and addicts; people coming out of prison; people who have been overlooked, overshadowed, discriminated against, declassified, classified, the history is that they'll work twice as hard to complete a project and do it better than anyone else would because of the discrimination they’ve faced. And I know this not only personally, but also professionally. Give somebody who has been disadvantaged an opportunity and you've got a gold mine.

2. HIDDEN DISABILITIES:              real audio clip icon

EMILY MILLER: Tell me what it means to have a hidden disability.

PETE ANDERSON: When you see somebody who is paralyzed or blind, a couple of things could happen. One is that red flags could go off, which more often than not happens, when you are not used to working with people with disability or you don’t know anybody with disabilities or you haven't involved yourself with anyone with a disability. So the first inclination would be avoidance or fear. The other thing is [you] could be patronizing to the person with the disability. But the third thing is that with the physical disability, it’s visible. It can be seen, and the process of accommodation or understanding could start from the very moment that you see that person. With a hidden disability, quite often people don't believe it. They don’t think that it’s a disability, and even if they acknowledge it as a disability, it doesn’t seem as disabling as someone who is paralyzed or blind. I've done presentations all over the country, and I'll talk about when, with my alcoholism, that I was more paralyzed than a quadriplegic because my brain was paralyzed. The same thing happens with the attention deficit disorder [and] the depression and anxiety, when your mind just stops. You can’t think; you can’t process. That’s very difficult for people to understand. They can understand someone who has lost an arm or a leg or someone who is using a wheel chair. To understand, how the mind will shut down like that and how disabling that is, is more difficult because it's hidden.

EMILY MILLER: Do you have any ideas about ways for program coordinators to work to be more inclusive and more supportive of members who have hidden disabilities? What kinds of things can they do?

PETE ANDERSON: It dawned on me, here I’m someone with a hidden disability, and how do I know when other people who are coming to me have hidden disabilities? So right now what I'm saying is that I'm putting my feet in the shoes of someone who does not have a hidden disability. And so thinking about their perception of someone with a hidden disability [and] their ability to become aware that someone has a hidden disability… It would be almost as difficult for me to recognize that in an individual who doesn't disclose it as it would be for someone without a hidden disability. I think what makes it a little different for me as a program coordinator, and someone who is aware of their disabilities, is that I share that with people. I let people know it, and first of all, if I have any inclination that someone else has a hidden disability I would develop techniques and strategies. I could be more sensitive to it because of my own experience. So I’m fortunate in that not only do I have the disabilities, but I spent all those years as a disability rights activist.. Even 20 years ago, I wasn't aware of my disabilities, and I wouldn't even acknowledge alcohol as a disability. But today I can.

3. ADVICE TO PROGRAMS:real audio clip icon

EMILY MILLER: What kinds of suggestions would you want to give [programs] for them to increase the participation of people with disabilities? I know it’s a huge question and I'll ask you again.

PETE ANDERSON: Well I can give you a simple answer to a huge question; maybe some of the simple questions I go on and on, but: outreach. Focusing on that community and saying to that community: "We want your participation. We believe that you have the skills that are needed to help other communities be able to get more self-sufficient to get services to their communities better. So outreach is the key: to get out there and to notify every disability organization that you can think of. But not just notify, you need to develop relationships. You see, when I got on the bandwagon for opening services to be people with disabilities who had alcohol and drug problems I realized immediately that if I wanted the help of the disability community I had to get out and fight the battles of the disability community also. I couldn’t just go to that community and say, “look, you guys have people who have alcohol and drug problems you need to be addressing those issues and you need to help get the alcohol and drug community to address those issues.

To me, the best way to get a community involved in your cause is to get involved in their cause also. So I guess what I'm saying is that AmeriCorps not only needs to do outreach and recruit people with disabilities, but they need to integrate themselves in that community. We need to be a part of that community.

EMILY MILLER: So what you’re saying is for AmeriCorps programs to be working with disability organizations and people in communities with disabilities?

PETE ANDERSON: Well, right from the top down. Having the leadership at the very top involve AmeriCorps in the struggle for social justice in the disability community.

As VISTA and then an AmeriCorps member, even I wasn’t sure what the difference between AmeriCorps and VISTA was and I’ve come to learn (I’m a slow learner) VISTA members are there to develop and improve on services, basically less direct service and more program development. AmeriCorps members are direct service and basically not program development. That’s the story I’ve been told at trainings for VISTA leaders, etc. But in order to be a VISTA and develop a service, a program, a project you have to do direct service. You can’t develop those programs if you haven’t integrated yourself into the community that you want to develop the program with, and or for. You won’t know how best to develop that program for that community that you think needs service; Plus that community is not gonna trust you if you are just out there developing services for them unless you involve yourself in their struggle. And it’s the same thing with AmeriCorps. In order to provide quality direct services, you need to be looking at the way you are applying the direct service and thinking how you can make those programs/projects better, expand them, [or] develop new ones. So you are in a program development mode also, even as an AmeriCorps member, to be a good direct service provider. Also you can’t just go and provide direct service day in and day out without really being critical of the way the service is being applied.

EMILY MILLER: That makes a lot of sense to me.

PETE ANDERSON: So the key is, and I live and breathe this, if you want to reach out to a community, then you need to become part of that community.

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©The National Service Inclusion Project (NSIP) is a training and technical assistance provider on disability inclusion. NSIP partners with the Association on University Centers on Disability, National Council on Independent Living, Association on Higher Education and Disability and National Down Syndrome Congress to build connections between disability organizations and all CNCS grantees, including national directs, to increase the participation of people with disabilities in national service.