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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