Widening The Circle

Widening The Circle
formerly “The Real Friends Project”

About The Project

The purpose of Widening The Circle, formerly The Real Friends Project, is to explore the benefits of relationships between people with disabilities and people without disabilities and to provide information about resources to help interested individuals engage in and sustain those relationships.

Engaging in relationships that might blossom into friendships can be especially challenging to people of all ages who happen to have disabilities. Despite decades of great advancements in disability rights and efforts at inclusion, we still have lots of inaccessible communities, substantially separate educational opportunities, group homes, sheltered work, etc. Because of these dynamics, relationships for people with disabilities are often limited to family members, paid staff and other people with disabilities. There is absolutely nothing “wrong” with these relationships and, in fact, they may be critical to the individual. But all people benefit greatly by a diversity of relationships.

What is a friend? — We have chemistry! We enjoy each other’s company. We trust, understand, respect and appreciate each other. We like how we feel when we’re together. We are close even when we are apart. We look forward to being together. We commit over some time. We give to each other. We may not give in the same way but what we give and what we receive is of great value to each of us.



Everyone needs friends! People with friends are happier, healthier, and safer.

Use the menu on the left side for information on making friends in the community by age.

Resources and Friends Initiatives

Learn about the mini-grants to advance Friendships that took place in 2014!

Introductions To Friends
Click here to download a power point that includes discussion and resources on building relationships between people with disabilities and people without disabilities of all ages.

Learn about Do For One: a Citizen Advocacy approach to friendships between people with and without disabilities.

View the Friendship and Life Outcomes for Adults With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Webinar by HSRI here. 

For additional resources, please visit our Resource Pages

Pathways To Friendship

Pathways to Friendship is a collaborative initiative on social inclusion between The Department of Developmental Services (DDS), The Arc of Massachusetts and several organizations providing residential supports to persons served by DDS.    

Many of us have increasingly recognized the importance of relationships and friendships in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This is reflected in new policy guidelines as well.

We share the belief that relationships are critical for all of us.  Too often those we support feel isolated in their own neighborhoods. Consequently the Pathways collaboration will work to advance relationships and friendships among people with and without disabilities.  The agencies involved will receive training and consultation.  They also have committed to advancing inclusion and tracking progress.

Our partner in collecting information is CDDER which is the Center for Developmental Disabilities Evaluation and Research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS).

The first video features Angela Amado from the University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.  It is helpful for anyone trying to forge new relationships with the persons they support.  The other videos focus on the project itself:

Former DDS Deputy Commissioner Larry Tummino introduces Pathways to Friendship

Jim Ross and Mary Ann Brennan, project consultants share expectations for the agencies and themselves on the project. 

Contact Our Staff

We need your help! If you have any pictures, stories, or videos that positively represent relationships between people with and without disabilities, please share them with us. Likewise, if you are aware of any programs that consciously address such relationships, we’d like to hear about them, too!

Western and Central MA
Mary Ann Brennen
(617) 921-9876
NE, Metro-Boston and SE MA
Jim Ross
(508) 822-1575

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