Knowing a person’s experiences – their joys, sorrows, and heart’s desires – is necessary to developing authentic relationships. You can identify with them as they relate to you their inner wishes.
We live in a world – including the “human services” world – that increasingly devalues people who do not possess wealth, beauty, power, influence or popularity. People with disabilities are commonly placed into professionally controlled settings based on I.Q. scores, diagnosis, and service plans. For many of these people, developing relationships with others who are not classified by test scores and doctor’s results is next to impossible. When this happens, the development of a social, creative, and spiritual life severely suffers.
At our Info Session held earlier this month (February 4th 2019), Alexa Burke shared about her experiences as a Special Education teacher, “Though I believe an outstanding education can affirm the dignity of people with disabilities, and can prepare them for life after school, there are limitations to the education system. Of course you value kids making progress—but their progress is not where their value comes from.”
She then shares about the benefits of her freely-given, mutually beneficial relationship with a woman who is intellectually impaired. Alexa reflects on her role in Alvena’s life in contrast to the limitations of her profession, “Alvena has become a big part of my life, outside of the boxes of what you might think of when you think of volunteer opportunities. Our relationship is also outside the boxes of my work. Where as my job involves strict boundaries of time and role with definitive markers of “success,” being with Alvena is the opposite. We cook meals and watch movies. We look up Youtube videos and plan birthday parties and share stories. We are friends, so we do what friends do.”
Considering the Ordinary
How can we deepen our relationships across societal barriers? I love what Alexa writes, “…we do what friends do.” Do For One teaches that disability is not the main problem, the BIG problem is that people are defined by negatively perceived differences. When this is our mindset, we might think that the best approach is to make "special" places for people with disabilities that end up being segregated, as opposed to looking to the ordinary.
Consider the communities and relationships you are a part of. What do you do with your family or roommates? What do you do with your neighbors? What do you do at your church? What do you do with your friends? Use the answers to these questions to guide how you interact with people who are different from you in some way.
Let us embrace the reality that shared human needs can be addressed in ways we are all familiar with. Remember, you are the expert in the ordinary things of life.
P.S. I’m indebted to the shared wisdom and language of Tom Doody for this one.
Join us and help spread the word. Our next Info Session is on April 17th 2019 7pm-9pm (location somewhere in Midtown), it is sure to be another rich time of exploring what people can come to mean to one another across societal barriers. Stay tuned for more info.
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The importance of relationships, hospitality, and most importantly, a changed heart.
Loyalty is one of the greatest gifts in life we can give to each other. It is a principle of unfailing love.
I’ve had many discussions with advocates about the importance of loyalty in relationships. When trying to resolve problems, we can forget that your constant presence in a person's life is often the best gift you can offer them. Your effort of being there often counts more than producing outcomes. This principle helps us to slow down and really understand the person.
In spite of our most sincere efforts, it's easy to be distracted by the interests of human service agencies, the partner’s family, or possibly the DFO program itself. It’s also easy to be distracted by the needs of people around you, such as another person in need of friendship asking for your attention, or people you know wanting you to volunteer for good causes. Given to fickleness, we all can be easily swayed by other, sometimes more compelling opportunities when the going gets tough. Your partner will depend on your fidelity to them.
One advocate from the Citizen Advocacy organization in Australia says it best, “I love her like a sister and will do everything I can in my power to make it right for her.” When your partner is the focal point of your actions and decisions – seeing the world from their perspective – you will be able to achieve incredible things.
Even as adults, people with disabilities can be very dependent on human services and their families. The people your partner depends on will develop their own opinions on what’s best for your partner, or already have them. Sometimes these perspectives can be very helpful, and other times they may have views that miss important details of your partner’s needs and desires.
As an advocate who is independent, you have an opportunity to align yourself with your partner. You can focus on their primary interests with a fresh perspective, and without the common distractions many professional service workers have. You will understand situations from the perspective of your partner and shape these situations for their benefit.
“Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. Go deep rather than wide. Go time, not just money.” – Andy Stanley
Many people with disabilities often have people come in and out of their lives and have felt the pain of short-lived relationships and outright rejection. Many people with disabilities have experienced what has been called a “relationship circus” in which “helping” people appear in their lives and then, just as quickly, disappear.
People with disabilities need sustainable communities and relationships. Some people may need a certain amount of help for specific or shorter periods of time; but most people with disabilities need relationships and communities that will last and endure. This may be the case even when such a person needs less and less help, but still needs friendship. As relationships grow and mature, many advocates find themselves engaged happily in long-term, enduring relationships, which meet important needs for both the partner and the advocate.
(The above is an adaptation from A.J. Hildebrand's writings on Citizen Advocacy Principles)
Watch as Jerry Robinson shares his story of how he got out of Willowbrook State School. Andrew Oliver then shares about disability, the church, and Do For One.