More than 60 county leaders met for the first “Embracing Difference” summit Oct. 29, for island-wide dialogue about disability and aging.
The summit, held at the Pacific Rim Institute in Coupeville, focused on how to create a more inclusive environment where all citizens can participate, thrive and feel they belong.
Keynote speakers and event organizers John and Kathleen Jo Ryan, producers of the much-acclaimed documentary “Right to Risk,” led the group in a conversation that was intended to challenge their conceptions of what is a barrier or disability.
“We hope this approach will transcend common misperceptions and begin new collaboration and initiatives,” said John Ryan.
Local leadership was represented by Oak Harbor Mayor Jim Slowik, Mayor Paul Samuelson of Langley and Island County Commissioner John Dean.
The leaders discussed housing, employment and community integration, and identified gaps in current services along with strategies for filling them.
Recognizing that government cannot do it all, they also explored how they can support each other as neighbors, especially those most vulnerable, in times of crisis.
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen shared her personal interest in attending and spoke passionately about how everyone can participate in removing barriers from their respective communities.
Examples of this success were also in attendance such as Seattle’s Lighthouse for the Blind. Luncheon speaker Peggy Martinez gave a demonstration on how her organization has been able to adapt technology to create employment for the sight impaired.
Over the coming months, leaders will take their discussion to their respective communities. They will meet with community members around specific issues such as affordable housing, employment and preparing for emergencies.