Guest Editor…by Mark Leeper
APRIL Conference memories
About a million years ago in April of 1986 a group of people that ran rural independent living programs were invited to meet with each other in the not-so-rural town of Houston, TX to talk about things that might be different for rural centers compared to their more urban counterparts.
During discussions it became clear that these rural centers felt there were significant differences. Rural places got less money: They didn’t have much, if any, public transportation, certainly few taxis and none that were accessible. Housing was in short supply (some things never change!)
Many rural programs were affiliated with larger organizations that helped absorb admin costs. Some had other programs like residential options, group homes, for people that had previously been placed in large state institutions. And community services that people could learn to access simply did not exist. Accessibility was limited even more than in urban areas and attitudes about disability were still embedded in the charity model.
With all these differences, they did what folks often do – championed the power of peer connections and decided to take the next logical step. They formed a national group to best represent their unique issues on the national stage. The national representative group, NCIL, appeared to heavily represent the urban centers. So a companion group unique to them was needed to ensure their voices were not lost. The actual APRIL name came about after much back and forth. People felt the acronym was representative of something new, new growth, things rural, the greenery of rural landscapes and so on.
So it was that members of this fledgling group went to the 1987 NCIL conference to present a workshop and introduce APRIL to the community at large. I was the group “go-fer”. I recall us putting cloverleafs on our name tags to identify us – greenery signifying April. I remember a bit of tension that we may be seen as oppositional. And I remember it was late June and darned hot! I remember this as I was the go-fer and had to walk a half mile to find a place to get copies made – no GPS, or conference center printers!
As it turned out, the presentation was a success and APRIL was well received with many of the urban based centers not nearly as oppositional as we feared.
In 33 years of existence and 25 years of national conferences, APRIL has continued to amplify the rural voices of independent living. In the process, it has developed a youth advocacy program to lead it into the future. Well done!