I want to tell you a little about the work I do.
There is a non-profit organization known as Mosaic, it was started by members of the Lutheran church and is a Christian organization. The mission of this group is to provide adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity to live independent lives. Many of my clients grew up in institutions where they were treated like chattel, never being allowed to mingle with “normal” people, never given a chance to try anything on their own, always treated like children.
Let me tell you something about some of the folks I work with. They can hold jobs. They can cook for themselves. They can volunteer at their churches. Some even can drive and get married, start a family.
But they will never find out unless someone gives them a chance to fail first.
Sometimes in our efforts to help the disabled we tend to infantilize them. We overly coddle them to try and make ourselves feel better, because disability makes us uncomfortable. In the end, all we do is unintentionally rob them of their dignity.
In the training I took prior to beginning this line of work we learned about something called “The Dignity of Risk”. A lot of folks in my town didn’t like the idea of “retarded” people living independently in their communities. They were fearful of someone with Down’s Syndrome or Fragile X or Williams Syndrome living outside of an institution.
“What if they get lost in town?”
‘What if they get too loud during church services?”
“What if they wreck their cars?”
“What if they can’t pay their bills?”
A million of questions similar arose. People weren’t trying to be cruel, but they just didn’t understand that part of being a human being, with or without a disability, is the ability to take risks and learn from them. The non-disabled are given countless opportunities to make decisions, both good and bad. The disabled however, are denied these opportunities.
Below is a transcript written by a parent of a child who has a disability. It serves as the foundation of why I chose the work I chose, and a constant reminder that I am working with people who just happen to have a disability, not disableds who just happen to be people.
I’m not saying those with disabilities may not need our help sometimes, but lets stop “helping” them so much that we hurt them.
Housewife at work.
THE DIGNITY OF RISK (A parent whose son is in a supported work program in Richmond, VA) What if you never got to make a mistake? What if your money was always kept in an envelope where you couldn’t get it? What if you were never given a chance to do well at something? What if you were always treated like a child? What if your only chance to be with people different from you was with your own family? What if the job you did was not useful? What if you never got to make a decision? What if the only risky thing you could do was to act out? What if you couldn’t go outside because the last time you went it rained? What if you took the wrong bus once and now you can’t take another one? What if you got into trouble and were sent away and you couldn’t come back because they always remember your “trouble”? What if you worked and got paid $.46 an hour? What if you had to wear your winter coat when it rained because it was all you had? What if you had no privacy? What if you could do part of the grocery shopping but weren’t allowed to do any because you weren’t able to do all of the shopping? What if you spent three hours every day just waiting? What if you grew old and never knew adulthood? What if you never got a chance?