Essence of Interdependence: Building community for everyone

Essence of Interdependence: Building community for everyone

Al Condeluci, Ph.D.

By exploring the roles, expectations, behavior and stereotypes of people with and without disabilities, Condeluci shows how to support the development, growth and independence of people with disabilities in their communities.

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By challenging how people’s differences are viewed, the author asserts that “the problem” is not that people have disabilities. Rather, the problem is how typical people in a community come to see and know people with disabilities. Using the concept of “social capital,” the author explores the similarities among all people and the steps that are necessary to build the bridges that lead to personal relationships.

By exploring the roles, expectations, behavior and stereotypes of people with and without disabilities, this manual lays the foundation for personal growth and larger societal change. Using a paradigm or model for interdependence, methods for moving from a medical model to a community approach show how to support the development, growth and independence of people with disabilities as integral figures in their communities. Weaving together personal accounts and frank discussions with clinical expertise and social theory, this manual is engaging reading with a powerful message for all. Whether you are a clinician, educator, caregiver, family member or advocate, you will find this book engaging, insightful and challenging. Most of all, it will make you rethink your beliefs, attitudes and approach to inclusion of people with disabilities in your community.

ISBN# 1-931117-44-6
Pages 88 pages, 7 x 8 1/2, softcover
Year 2008


Al Condeluci, Ph.D.

An advocate and catalyst for building community capacities and understanding culture since 1970, Al Condeluci was born and raised in the steel town of Pittsburgh, PA. Still making his home there, he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Youngstown State University, his Master’s in Social Work and Ph.D. in Education from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1973, he has worked as an attendant, caseworker, advocate, planner, program director and now, CEO of his organization, United Cerebral Palsy/Community Living and Support Services of Pittsburgh. UCP/CLASS has created a family of corporations and is dedicated to its mission - “working towards a community where each belongs.” UCP/CLASS, under Al’s leadership, has grown to become the 3rd largest disability specific agency in Southwestern PA with a budget of $25 million and a staff and payroll complement of 650.

Along with his work at UCP/CLASS, Dr. Condeluci is associated with the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work and School of Health and Rehabilitation Science and Robert Morris University Graduate School of Business. In these academic roles, he teaches, supervises students, and serves as advisor and consultant.

Since 1975, Dr. Condeluci has emerged as a national leader and consultant on human services and community issues. He speaks annually to national and international audiences reaching some 15,000 people each year. His books, Interdependence, Beyond Difference, The Essence of Interdependence and Cultural Shifting have won praises and awards for their thoughtful approach to culture and community and are now used at many colleges, universities and in-service settings. His newest book is Together Is Better.

Al has lived his entire life on the family homestead of “Condeluci Hill.” Settled in 1917 by his grandfather, Antonio and honed by his father, mother, uncles and aunts, “Condeluci Hill” is currently home to 15 families and was featured in LIFE MAGAZINE (Aug, 1996). Al still lives on the “hill” with his wife Liz, children Dante, Gianna and Santino and some 45 other members of the Condeluci family. You can reach him at:

Al Condeluci, Ph.D.
CEO - UCP of Pittsburgh
4638 Centre Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
412-246-2122 - 412-683-4160 fax


About the Author
Chapter 1 Disempowered
Chapter 2 Role Expectations, Behavior and Stereotypes
Chapter 3 Understanding Paradigms
Chapter 4 Interdependent Paradigm
Chapter 5 Achieving Interdependence
Chapter 6 Bringing it Home
References and Recommended Reading


Sample excerpt. Preview only – please do not copy.


In 1984, I wrote an article on Interdependence for the Journal of Brain Injury Rehabilitation. It was an invited piece and I pulled it from presentations I was giving at that time on the medical model. The thesis of these presentations was controversial – that the medical, treatment model can lead to ill effects on some patients and their families and can skew how society not only sees, but ultimately treats people with disabilities.

This article, and my ensuing presentations that surrounded it, were based on simple cultural and sociological concepts – that people can be stereotyped and then engulfed in these stereotypes until they are swallowed by them. Then not only does the world see them through the popularly accepted lens, but that the actual people with the difference begin to see themselves this same way. Sociologists call it “Role Expectation Theory.”

As I think back now on this era, there was an interesting tension when I presented on this concept. Often professionals in the medical/rehabilitation world became defensive and angry. Many approached me after talks and argued against my thesis. Many said: “I am not being defensive, but….” And then proceed to be fully defensive of what they perceived to be a criticism of their work.

But on the other side, individuals with disabilities and their families came to life during these same presentations. These folks not only got it, but in a way, found a renewed hope in their situation. It wasn’t that I was giving them hope, as much as it was for once they were hearing a clear assertion that they were not the problem.

This notion of the “problem” is a critical thrust of the The Essence of Interdependence. That is, people with disabilities (or any other type of difference that can lead to marginalization) are really not the problem. Certainly, many people with disabilities have problems, but it is not their disability (or difference) that is the key feature leading to the realities of their problems.

Rather, the problem is how typical people in the community come to see and know people with disabilities. Consider this, if you encounter a person who is different from you, and only see their difference, most people will back away and only relate to that person from the image they have about their difference. This is the basis for “role expectation theory.”

Now this point is a seminal one to the thesis of Interdependence. All people have differences, deficits, problems, struggles and things they can not do. Yet many of these same people are successful in life and find much of the fruits that life offers. Equally, there are very gifted and tremendously talented people, who struggle endlessly. Why is this? One would think that if you can fix or change their problem, all should be well. But for many people it does not work like that.

Certainly there is no magic wand that can lead to happiness and life satisfaction, but there is, by all accounts in the literature, a step stone to these things – and that is when people see each others’ similarities and begin to build bridges to relationships. Sociologists call these relationships “social capital” and have come to discover that it is clearly potent. Researchers now know that both the quantity and quality of one’s social capital is not only tied to their happiness, but their healthfulness as well. There are even now studies that show conclusively that people with deep social capital are not only happier, but healthier (have less sick days) than those who are more socially isolated. One renowned researcher even concludes that social capital “prevents” illness by boosting one’s immune system.

It is our contention that Interdependence is all about social capital – how it develops, how it is sustained. Interdependence maintains that people are better together, and collectively, communities are better when people are bonded and see each other’s relevance, similarities and connectedness.

Since this early article in 1984, the concept and thesis of Interdependence has been evolved and developed. In a number of books, articles and presentations, I have looked at not just Interdependence, but the notions of culture, community, social capital, change, advocacy and leadership. We have not only written about these things, but in this same time span have worked with countless individuals with disabilities through my agency, UCP/CLASS of Pittsburgh putting these concepts and theories to the test.

Although these concepts have grown and developed over time, one thing has remained the same – that is the hope and positive feelings that people with disabilities and their families experience when they learn more about Interdependence.

We can get better as a society. We can grow, develop and evolve – but only if we find our similarities. So read on, and find yourself in others.

Al Condeluci

June, 2007

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