Perspective & Possibilities: Celebrating 2019 and Ready to Kick-Off a New Decade

By: Shawn Henry, Executive Director, OCALI

Perspective and possibilities—as we wrap up 2019, these are two words that I’ve been reflecting on over the past few weeks. The end of the year at OCALI is an extremely busy time, but also a time of incredible celebration. Just a few weeks ago, on November 20-22, our team hosted nearly 3,200 attendees from around the world at OCALICON—the nation’s premier autism and disabilities conference.

The growth of this conference has been incredible—steadily growing each year. We love seeing that this event fits a need for so many. But, what’s even more exciting and special to me is the community that we’re creating together. It’s a community of people from all over the world, serving in different roles with different ideas and opinions. It’s this type of community that creates an environment of innovation, learning, exploring, and true connection—all aimed at promoting access and inspiring change for people with disabilities and those who love, care for, and support them. From educators, service providers, parents/families, self-advocates, community leaders, policy makers, and others, we’re striving to connect each other to create and expand accessible and inclusive opportunities for all.

Shawn Henry, Executive Director of OCALI
Shawn Henry, Executive Director of OCALI

Perspective: A Look Back at 2019

While our team is coming off of this incredible high note from OCALICON, I would be remiss not to acknowledge all of the other incredible work and impact that has taken place throughout the year. I am humbled and proud of the OCALI staff, because without them, our work wouldn’t be possible. We have a team of professionals who are committed to a mission and it shows. It shows in the way they serve others, it shows in the way they’re committed to learning and growing professionally, and in their genuine passion for people. I also must recognize the important role of our partners. Partners in education, technology, health care, business and community, policy and government, and so many more. As I think about the diversity of our staff and partners, I know that we are better together. It’s not just a phrase, but a belief that when lots of people collaborate, we bring new ideas and diverse perspectives that expand our thinking, practices, and work. And, ultimately, our impact.

In 2019, our hard work and relationships led us to some exciting opportunities and new areas of work around positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), supports for multi-system youth (MSY), childhood nutrition, and even virtual reality technology. We also had the privilege to partner with the Ohio Expo Commission to host the Ohio State Fair’s first Sensory-Friendly Morning and work with the Hospitality Management Program at The Ohio State University to host a free, annual dining event for families with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some of you may be wondering why OCALI is involved in so many different things and how all of these things connect. The answer is very simple. We believe that when we promote access and independence, people are able to grow, learn, and live their best lives. For someone to live their best life, we need to consider the whole person—their physical, social, emotional, and intellectual well-being. We also need to think about people across the lifespan from early childhood to adulthood and in multiple settings—at school, work, home, and in the community.

Possibilities: Looking Ahead to 2020

As we move into a new decade, I am energized about where we are as an organization and how far we’ve come as a collective community. Think about it. We are, right now, in the best place we’ve ever been in history in supporting people with disabilities. From research and innovation to technology and the capacity to support. We are in a better place. 

While we have accomplished so much, we are far from where we want to be, which means there’s more work to be done. At OCALI, we want to break down traditional barriers and explore things that others may not have yet seen as possible. And we’re striving to create a culture that celebrates creativity and innovative thinking and to inspire that mindset in others. Our staff is already rolling up their sleeves and diving into some new ventures—forcing us to think big and outside of the box. In 2020, we will continue to expand our work in using data, research, and evidence-based strategies to shape policy and practice. And we will expand our suite of online learning resources and explore new ideas around micro-credentialing and coaching just to name a few. More importantly, we will be working with intentionality to grow and connect our OCALI community.

I mentioned this a few weeks ago at OCALICON, but I really like it and think it’s an important mantra as we head into 2020, and that is, “Conversations are the currency for change.” What starts out as a simple conversation with one or two people has the potential to fuel big change. The challenge is to not let fear get in the way. Often times, we get hung up on what if someone thinks our ideas are ridiculous? What if someone criticizes me for my ideas? What if, what if, what if…..but, WHAT IF it starts a conversation? What if it that idea and conversation lead to actual systemic change?

When it comes to positively impacting the lives of people with disabilities, I believe that there are endless possibilities. Clinging to this idea and a feeling of optimism, I can tell you that OCALI will be initiating some important conversations in 2020. Conversations that, I hope, will lead to OCALI and others taking some risks and leaning in to new ideas—some that may have lasting and widespread change.

Can I challenge you to do the same?