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Cornell University. ILR School. Employment and Disability Institute

Course 1: Introduction to Person-Centered Planning

"It is so easy to change our language without changing our structure or our culture" ~John O'Brien

"Person-centered planning" has become a familiar term in the service delivery world. In many ways the term has taken on a life of its own: People attend training in order to become "person-centered," while organizations boast of being "person-centered" in the delivery of services to people who have disability labels. So common has the language of person-centered practices become that there is a danger of the "same soup in a different cup" syndrome. What this means is that we run the risk of putting the newest trendy label on what we have always been serving!

In the paper entitled "When People Matter More Than Systems,"(March 2000 Keynote Presentation for the Conference "The Promise of Opportunity"), Michael Kendrick discusses that person-centered work begins within each and every one of us and radiates out toward others. Our deep-seated belief systems guide the way in which we interact with other human beings. In other words, the planning processes we engage in with people are a mirror image of what we believe about a person or about a group of people. These core beliefs help to define our degree of what Kendrick has coined as "person centeredness." Simply thinking that we are being person-centered does not make us person-centered; it is what we actually do that ultimately reveals our true priorities. It requires a personal commitment to engaging conscious awareness and self-reflection about the relationship between how one feels, thinks, and acts. It is beliefs forming thoughts giving rise to words leading to action that, in turn, create experiences. Person-centered planning is a way in which one can listen to peple and learn about important aspects of a person's interests and needs. Person-centeredness is about intentionally being with people that may or may not include planning. In considering our thoughts about the people with whom we are planning, it is helpful to reflect upon our actions against the following seven touchstones condensed from Kendrick's paper:

  • A commitment to know and seek to understand
  • A conscious resolve to be of genuine service
  • An openness to being guided by the person
  • A willingness to struggle for difficult goals
  • Flexibility, creativity, and openness to trying what might be possible
  • A willingness to enhance the humanity and dignity of the person
  • To look for the good in people and help to bring it out