35th Anniversary Edition

Looking Back to See the Future


Scott McConnell was director of the Institute on Community Integration from 1991 to 1997. He may be reached at smcconne@umn.edu.

A vintage black and white photo of a woman with short hair wearing a suit jacket and standing on a staircase next to a man wearing a patterned sweater and tie.

ICI colleagues Scott McConnell and Mary McEvoy.

I love time-lapse photography – a series of still pictures of the same item or setting, each one separated from the next in time. As time unfolds across the individual images, we get to see “change” in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, when looking at the same item or setting in real time.

I had a similar experience looking through issues of Impact from 1991 to 1997, a time I had the fortune of directing ICI and working with the remarkable folks at Pattee Hall, across campus, and around the country and world. Then, like now, each issue featured a different topic, with editors selected for their commitment to and expertise in the discussion. Articles were by and about individuals with disabilities, their family members, the professionals who served them, and associated policies and programs and movements. The topics ranged widely: Persons with developmental disabilities in the justice system, inclusion in schools, self-determination, self-advocacy, employment, closing institutions, expanding community opportunity, and the special needs and opportunities for school students of different ages. That variety closely reflected the scope of ICI’s concerns and work, from early childhood to late in life; from school to home to community; from education to employment to, well, to life. Families. Siblings. Neighbors. Teachers. Work. Fun.

A man with blonde hair wearing a light blue oxford shirt smiles.


These issues of Impact represent one part of the “time-lapse view” of ICI’s work over the last 35 years, and the evolution of life circumstances for individuals with disabilities over that time. On the one hand, those issues from the 90s are filled with analysis, commitment, careful planning, and strong personal connection. On the other, the ways issues were discussed – and even to some extent the issues themselves – seem, today, not surprisingly dated. Things that were unusual, edgy, or forward-thinking then are more typical now. And while new topics have emerged in more recent issues of Impact that represent a maturing of ICI’s work (for instance, attention to inclusive higher education or retirement and aging, or the arts), some issues repeat. Inclusion. Self-determination. Early childhood. Transition. Employment. New topics largely represent new opportunities, at scale, for individuals with disabilities, and the recurring topics represent the real progress that has been achieved over the years.

This time-lapse view highlights for me two remarkable and important facts. First, comparing then to now gives a real sense of how far we have come as a caring and inclusive society; things that were exceptional or innovative then are, sometimes, accepted as commonplace now. But this view also reminds me of the importance of ICI’s work going forward – both what it does, and how it does it. Success and progress must be celebrated, but they also must not be accepted as sufficient. To quote Cliff Poetz in an Impact article from winter 2010, “I think we have come a long way, but we have a long way to go.”

One personal note: Reviewing Impact from the 1990s also gave me an opportunity to look back at my work from then until now. That reflection gave me a chance to see the ways that both the work and the people who did the work during those years affected me, making me more attentive to the ways scholarship can and should be in service to others and to the community. I’m grateful for the ways that shaped me, and to the folks, too many to mention here, who helped make that happen. I can only wish the same for those who have the good fortune to come into contact with ICI and Impact, now and into the future.

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