What I did in Chicago

At  TASH’s annual conference over the last few years we’ve created a kind of alternative space.   Most people come to TASH to present in or attend concurrent sessions of workshops.  Some of us wanted to make a place which was more open to deeper, longer, closer conversations – this has become “The Gathering.”  We have a room, we decorate it the night before with posters, art and homey touches that are welcoming, and we create “on the spot” a place where all kinds of people can come in and have all kinds of conversations.   People who have attended over the past few years have been John and Connie Lyle O’Brien, Beth Mount, Tom Nernie, Judith Snow, Jack Pearpoint, Tom Kholer, Lynda Khan and Carole Blessing – to name a few.  Government folks have come in to think about policies they have implemented or are intending.   Self advocates, parents, leaders and creative types gather and you get to sit with them and have amazing conversations in circles.   These are some graphics from TASH 2013 “A Movement United” in Chicago.


Each year, there is a host and “opening” and “closing” ceremonies – this year led by Mara Sapon-Shevin – who danced us into liveliness (at 8:30 in the morning) with great music while giving us tips about how to “include all” in all activities.   I met Mara several years ago at TASH in Seattle and was so excited to get to work with her – I was not disappointed at all and learned so much and had so much fun.



Mara has a new book out that isn’t even listed yet but this is one of my favourite of her texts.   She has great ideas about how to use dance, music, art and activities to keep learning lively and inclusive.  I want to do more with her.


This is the beginning of figuring out the “open space” – who would talk about what and when, and where.   It all happens with the people in the room in synchronous time.




This is Merrill Friedman – chair of the TASH Community Inclusion Committee that I sit on.

The first conversations were led by Angela Amado, one of my heroes for her work around community building and support circles,  with Pam Walker acting as recorder of one kind, while I recorded, and summarized at intervals, in another way.

person centered

This is a book with a paper by  Angela and if you google her name you can learn lots about her work.


John O’Brien was with us in the circle and I ran out of room on the large sheet and had to start improvising…

This graphic is by April Doner. The second part of the conversation was about “What does Community Mean?”  April was helping with graphic facilitation and photography and I had to run off to a different session – she did this great graphic!

What does community mean (I really like this one)

April can be found here – http://www.aprildoner.com/

We were led in a great conversation on our second day, about “A Paucity of Quality” – with Tom Nerney.   It was a great discussion about what “quality” is, in terms of peoples’ actual lives and communities, and what the many programs for “quality improvement” actually monitor.


Tom’s paper is here – really worth reading

I had to run out and do my own presentation but thought I’d include a photo from my powerpoint!


Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 11.15.41 AM

You can see the whole presentation here.


I also got to sneak off for a bit to the art galleries and spend time with my friend Brandy Agerbeck and see her amazing new place – Brandy’s got a great book on graphic facilitation you can find here.   In this photo we are towering like giants over a little Chicago 🙂  One of the best parts of the trip was hearing Brandy’s ideas about the new book she’s working on – I love the way she thinks and learn so much from her.   She did a fabulous TEDX talk in Chicago last year.  Check it out.

In another room that afternoon there was a poster session – where people put up research they’ve done about their work and then stand at the poster and have conversations with people as they come by.   It was fun to talk to people about the books we’ve written, how the research we do informs our agency and vice versa, and about the folks we collaborate with.   I wouldn’t do it again without one of our self advocate partners, but both of the usual suspects had other things to take care of.


You can check out our books at www.spectrumpress.ca

This is a photo of me and my friend Gail Morrison Fanjoy – I’ve enjoyed getting to know her and about her agency KFI in Maine so much.  I really want to go visit them.


I’ve always wanted to attend a Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community reading – and this was amazing.  Not least because Peyton Goddard was there with her family.   By the end of the drawing people were sending author Tom Kholer photos of my work, so that was fun.


You can read about Waddie Welcome and the process of organizing community readings here on Inclusion Press: http://www.inclusion.com/bkwaddiewelcome.html

This reading was organized for us by Kirk Hinkleman who wrote this blog about his experience of it all: http://comeinfromthecold.net/2013/12/16/a-warm-reminder/

Peyton had given a keynote at TASH 2013 that is one of the best things I’ve ever heard.


At the end of the day we did a PATH for April and she invited people who wanted to watch the process to come in – very brave and co-facilitating with my new friend Beth Gallagher was a great experience.


Beth and Kirk work here: http://lifeworks-sls.com/aboutusStaff.html

And they’ve written this great book – we hope to have them do a workshop here in B.C. about it this coming year: http://lifeworks-sls.com/store.html#ecom_section_2

The woman in the center is Janice Fialka.   My goal at last year’s TASH was to meet her and I ended up paired in a workshop with her but didn’t know it was her until we started talking.  “Hey I came to meet you!”

Beside her is Sheldon Schwitek – I wasn’t expecting to meet him but am so glad I did.

The fellow on the floor is Joe Donofrio – amazing man.



You can learn more about PATH here on the inclusion press site: http://www.inclusion.com/path.htm



You might also want to consider coming to one of our workshops on PATH as an exemplary form of person centred facilitation.  The next one is booked for March but we do about three a year, as well as travelling to places where we are hosted to do workshops:



At the end of the second day, after 37 hours, 20 of which I had spent working (if you can call such joy “work”), we closed “The Gathering” with, literally, a circle of light (you had to be there!).

So, there were lots of great conversations, lots of great meals, lots of great art at the Chicago Art Institute, great friends, new friends, old friends, lots of stories…  and it was just incredibly cold 🙂

EcoCollageStoriesTextLogo-001feel free to download and use this little poster!

There’s a stream that runs throughout self advocate stories about the importance of going to conferences – for many of them it’s where they “come home” and “find out who we are.”   TASH conferences are where we’ve done some of our best learning.


3 thoughts on “What I did in Chicago

  1. What a wonderful synopsis Aaron. It was so great to watch you live out your life’s gifts and passions! Thanks for the love man!!!

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