Re-Centering Personhood: Person-Centered Planning for I/DD Individuals

Developmentally and intellectually disabled individuals have long been relegated to the societal periphery. Yes, services exist to help meet the needs of I/DD people, but their wants are often given far less consideration.

As abled and neurotypical members of society, we are rarely faced with the same issue. We’re constantly asked, “What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? How do you want to spend your time?” And while we can’t always get what we want, we’re at least allowed to dream. Unfortunately, I/DD people often aren’t given the same privilege.

Person or Personhood?

So much of a disabled person’s life revolves around managing, living with, and embodying their disability. Their disability, all too often, becomes the defining feature of their life. Some day and residential facilities, and even community care services, tend to focus more on overseeing, and managing their clientele. These system-centered models serve their clients by fulfilling their needs or supplementing a deficit.

On the other hand, a person-centered approach looks at a client as a unique individual, not as someone who is defined by their condition. No matter their disability, the person-centered approach frames the client, first and foremost, as a person with hopes, goals, and gifts. The approach is focused on “supporting personhood” rather than treating an individual as just another person in an impersonal system.

A Personalized Approach

The person-centered approach doesn’t ignore the individual’s disability. Instead, it embraces the disability and everything that goes along with it. This model subscribes to the idea that there is no one-size-fits-all approach—not in education, care, medical treatment, behavioral therapy, or otherwise. People with disabilities are just as complex, unique, and multifaceted as those without. The person-centered approach is a holistic and comprehensive way of refocusing on the needs of the client and their wants as well.

The thing that makes person-centered planning so special is that it is self-directed by the person receiving the support. This means soliciting feedback and direction straight from the source – that is, the client, as well as their support system. Person-centered planning incorporates the client’s personal preferences, desires, and interests into their programming. The model optimizes the client’s strengths to optimize their learning and performance and garners insight from the client’s existing relationships, both personal and communal.

Person-centered planning doesn’t assume that the implementation of a program will always be smooth and seamless. It allows for correction and growth, both from the service provider and the client. The model is malleable, adaptable, and, most importantly, tailored to the individual it serves. Every part of the program operates in service of their wants and needs. In short, it puts the person back in the center, where they belong.

At the Independent Living Association in New York City, we believe that every Individual should be centered in their program planning. After all, Individuals are the heart of everything we do, and our goal is to ensure that our programming reflects that.