The Power of Risk
For a long time in the world of disability services there has been an understandable focus on discouraging risk. This often results in annual planning meetings where service providers, family, friends and individuals receiving services all focus on ways to eliminate any level of risk from a persons’ life.
This is done with the best of intentions. Of course our first responsibility is to make sure an individual is safe from injury, loss and failure.
However, a certain level of risk is part of being human and there is a growing movement to recognize this aspect of humanity in regards to people with disabilities. We all suffer some amount of loss, setback, or failure in our lives. Often these experiences are extremely important in shaping how we respond to future events.
Everyone, of all abilities, wants to be able to make their own choices about their lives. Incorporating risk into people’s lives on their terms, and within an acceptable level, allows them the dignity of having control and exercising choice.
At Search, our team is thoughtfully re-examining how we approach these conversations, with a focus on supporting individuals to pursue activities and long-term goals that matter most to them. Rather than focusing on eliminating risk altogether, we are shifting to a model that gives the people we serve more power to make decisions about their lives.
An important aspect of this new approach is how an individual and their supporters – staff, family, or friends – manage decisions that introduce an element of risk. This could include making decisions in the areas of money management, community travel, diet and personal relationships, among others.*
*Any amount of risk is not acceptable if it will seriously endanger the safety or health of a person.
When an individual makes a decision that involves risk, their supporters focus on education, training and supports to minimize any potential negative consequences.
As an example, money management can involve risk because if an individual holds their own money, rather than having Search staff hold it, it’s possible that the money might be lost or stolen. However, the potential benefit is that the individual will gain important money management skills.
This shift in focus will have a profound impact on the people we serve. Through incorporating an acceptable level of risk, we also foster higher self-esteem, more confidence and a determination to make decisions that are consistent with an individual’s personal goals. Ultimately this leads to more independent people who are happy about their contribution to the world around them.