Widening the Circle (Pathways to Friendship)


Widening the Circle, which includes 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 explores the benefits of relationships between people with disabilities and people without disabilities, and provides information about resources to help interested individuals engage in and sustain those relationships. The agencies involved will receive training and consultation. They also have committed to advancing inclusion and tracking progress.

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


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.


Since 2012, the Pathways to Friendship program has been creating resources to help individuals and organizations support friendships between people with and without disabilities. One of our initiatives is developing a series of toolkits that reflect our strong belief that the friendships between people with and without disabilities can be found wherever people live, learn, work, and play. Three of the four toolkits have been published so far, and may be accessed below. Each toolkit contains helpful strategies, resources, and contact information.


Jim Ross

Mary Ann Brennen

Katie Driscoll

Meg Gaydos

Phoebe Goodman








Thank you for helping to widen the friendships between people with disabilities and without disabilities. We have posted both the introductory training and facilitators guide below to help you as you train people. This training is intended for a wide audience including people with disabilities, families, staff, and others in our communities.

Learn more.

At the link below, you will find a list of Pathways to Friendship Guides (How to's) that address frequently asked questions and common scenarios for friendships and their development.

Learn more.

Recreational activities are a wonderful way for people with and without disabilities to meet, interact and–with a little luck and effort–establish friendships. The following list is designed to give you a glimpse of the wide variety of activities that people can do together.

These resources do not necessarily purposefully bring people with and without disabilities together, but with a little ingenuity it’s not too difficult to envision how it can be done. A given activity may not be available near where you live, either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t seek out local people who share that interest and–using the resource as both inspiration and a guide–make something happen in your area. Have fun!

Learn more.

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