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When we talk about social opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, we refer to it as “going out into the community” but as author Janet Klees notes, “we really shouldn’t frame it that way because we are the community”.  Janet suggests that we think about developing our community relationships in terms of an “enduring presence”.  People with developmental disabilities want and need meaningful relationships and friendships that exist outside of family and paid support staff.

Janet notes that “You cannot create relationship...but you can recognize, encourage, and design opportunities in which the miracle of friendship is more likely to occur”. Furthermore, Janet notes that in order to design and support such an opportunity or context to relationship, we need to pay attention to four things at one time:

  • discovering community spaces
  • ensuring regular, predictable presence
  • designing and supporting valued roles (a reason to be there and contributing)
  • connecting with other people


For example, you can join a club, fitness center, become a fan, become a member of a church group, become a student, volunteer, or offer a service.

This guide was created to help families find opportunities for community involvement that will  build relationships and friendships.  We included activities open to the public and those geared toward people with disabilities.  Ensemble believes all community activities should be welcoming to everyone.  Please email Ensemble at to share your suggestions or any corrections to this guide.

Ensemble gratefully acknowledges Janet Klees’ contribution to this content adapted from her book, Our Presence Has Roots, 2005 found online at