New training supports children with developmental disabilities

A new statewide program, Paving the Way to Self Determination, has been developed to raise the expectations families have for their children with developmental disabilities by introducing concepts to families and people with developmental disabilities (ages birth–12) that will lead to self-determined lives.

Paving the Way to Self Determination provides online educational opportunities for children with developmental disabilities and their families on topics that promote self-determination and independence, including the history of the disability rights movement, disability pride and allyship, how to ask for an accommodation, supported decision-making and self-determination, and how employment will impact Social Security benefits. 

The program utilizes interactive, online training on topics that promote self-determination and independence. 

Training topics include: 
  • Disability pride and history
  • Asking for an accommodation
  • Disability allyship
  • Supported decision-making
  • Independent living philosophy
  • Self-directed services
  • Social Security benefits

The program also provides information and referral services to families on a statewide level, as well as access to the Charting the LifeCourse program.

“This program is an opportunity to reframe the mindset of parents of young children with disabilities,” says Disability Network Southwest Michigan President and CEO Yvonne Fleener. “Rather than see disability as something negative, our approach will help parents and their children to see disability as diversity and not a limitation on their dreams and goals to live independent and meaningful lives.”

Beyond a ‘safe’ life

Historically, parents and family members of children with developmental disabilities are shown one path in life for their children, often a path to a segregated and “safe” life. The path may include segregated school and activities, sheltered and subminimum wage work, leading to forced poverty and congregate living. 

While every situation is as individual as the people, for many of those with developmental disabilities, a self-determined and independent life can be a reality. When parents and families get to see the personal, lived experiences of others with developmental disabilities, they can see a different life for their child. It can lead to a change in outlook, perspective, and expectation. 

That change in expectation can lead to a path that includes inclusion and belonging, self-determination and supported decision-making, employment, and independent living.

Expectations matter

Research has shown that other people’s expectations for one’s success contribute to their actual success.

According to a study conducted by Carter, Austin & Trainor, youth with developmental disabilities whose parents expected them to hold a job after graduation are five times more likely to have paid employment after graduating than youth whose parents did not hold similar expectations. 

Students whose teachers expected them to work during the upcoming summer were 15 times more likely to work than students whose teachers did not hold such expectations.

This program is a collaboration with Michigan Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC), The Arc Michigan, Michigan Alliance for Families, and Charting the LifeCourse, and was made possible through funding from MDDC.  

For more information about Paving the Way to Self Determination or to register for virtual classes, visit

This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.
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