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Forum planned on needs of disabled

Renata Lac had always considered her autistic son’s future, but with Max a high school freshman, the need to plan became more pressing.

Lac decided to help Max – and other island residents with disabilities – by convening a first-ever Bainbridge Island Community Summit on Disability, slated for Oct. 13.

“I look at my son and I want him to participate in the community,” Lac said. “Where will Max work? Where will he live? What will his social life be? Those are the things that make up a life, and I want him to have a good quality of life.

“With special needs kids, the parent has to be actively involved in bringing those things about.”

Having worked as a special education activist on the East Coast and in Seattle, Lac believes communication is key to supporting the disabled.

Soon after moving to the island two years ago, she became a parent representative to the site council that meets monthly to discuss special education issues in Bainbridge schools.

She also started an email list to share information.

“When I first came here, it was very natural to look around and see what the resources were and to get information,” Lac said, “but it was hard because there was no unified way to know what was happening.”

Lac conceived the idea for a summit and turned to the Bainbridge Island Special Needs Foundation to co-sponsor the event with the school district.

The Special Needs Foundation board of directors swiftly determined that the summit supported their own mission to enhance the lives of special needs students and young adults on Bainbridge, and came on board.

“We believe that the community benefits when people with disabilities participate in community life,” said Dale Cunningham, SNF board member. “We want to develop and support the programs that do that.”

The summit, he says, will assemble groups addressing the disabled community’s needs, including social services such as Helpline House; agencies like the Housing Resources Board; recreation resources like Bainbridge Island Park District; and the city.

The summit will, organizers hope, increase the level of awareness of the number of disabled in the community; identify the needs of the broad spectrum of disabilities; and pinpoint which agencies offer which services.

Lac also hopes that the summit will identify more Bainbridge disabled and bring them into the system.

“We know we have 400 children with special needs ranging from mild to severe in the schools,” Lac said. “We know that there are 20 island residents with severe disabilities that make them non-verbal and non-ambulatory, but we don’t have an overall head count.”

The summit will not be a quick fix for obstacles disabled citizens might encounter, Lac says, but will create a vehicle for ongoing change.

The summit will run 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Bainbridge Commons. Continental breakfast will be served. For reservations and information, call 780-1211.

“I have very ambitiously titled this the ‘first annual’ summit,” Lac said, “because I hope that this is the start of a long-term commitment.”

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