“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friends with and without disabilities

I gave an inservice to professional working in the area of "transition" this past Wednesday. Transition, in case you don't know, relates to the time period between age 14-16, and age 22 when a student leaves school and begins his "adult life". The focus on this time period in the lives of students with disabilities has been helpful, at times, in planning for their future.

Well, in this inservice I spoke of how the typical 3 outcomes we are looking to facilitate are work, a good place to live and social relationships/satisfaction with ones life. It has long been believed that a critical aspect of social satisfaction is that friendships be developed that are not exclusively with people who are paid to be with an individual with a disability, or are not exclusively with others who also have disabilities. Trust me that this has been an important thrust in a variety of fields. However, in preparing for my inservice, it once again struck me that although we are worried if people with disabilities don't have nondisabled friends, we are not as worried that people without disabilities have friends with disabilities. In my mind it is at least as important and most likely is much more important in the life of the person who is not disabled to have friends who are disabled. Why might I say that?

For myself, I think my friends with disabilities (mostly people with intellectual disabilities) stretch me socially, make me more acceptiong. As I have come to learn, they make me more like themselves in this way. I am hopefully growing to be accepting of others in the ways that they are accepting of others. These types of friendships although they can be demanding bless ME in myriad ways.

However, it is funny because society tends to think that if we befriend a person with a disability we are doing them a favor. I guess befriending anyone is doing them a favor, but we are especially helping if we befriend a person with a disability. Now I agree that people with disabilities need friends who are not disabled, but I do not agree that I am the only one who is giving in a friendship. They are never the only ones who are benefitting in a relationship. I think that is one of saddest misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities: the nondisabled always do for them they do nothing for those who are not disabled. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, you need to be paying attention. Yes I am the one who is buying the ice cream, or the Starbucks and I am the one who is driving the car and so forth. But there is an aspect of this where I am doing, while they are being. That is something that I could really unpack but it needs a lot more thought. But I will say that if I have limited resources to do for someone, I tend to think I have nothing to offer because I can't do. How can I benefit others by my being in the same manner that my friends with intellectual disabilities benefit me by their being? That is a lesson I need to learn. It is a difficult lesson because I am so focussed in my life on being this and doing this. It isn't that my friends have made the decision not to be like me. It has to do with the "cards they have been dealt". I have the ability to reflect on this difference to try to understand it.



Mark said...

I suppose that sometimes a mutual relationship of simply "being" is all that is needed. It doesn't need to be about doing. Joy in what is received, without any expectations, is the essence of gratitude. The best relationships are about just "being there."

Anonymous said...

I have found through the discussion and experiences shared in Dr. McNair's class that a friendship shared between someone that is disabled and someone that is not disabled is actually more beneficial for the individual without the disability. Prior to taking this course on the exceptional child, I believed that it was important for disabled students to be in inclusive classrooms so that they could learn how to interact socially and be able to successfully integrate within society, but my sentiments have been slightly altered. I still believe that it is beneficial for the disabled student to be in an inclusive environment, but I think that their presence truly teaches the normal students how to socialize and eventually be a positive contributor to society. Those that are disabled help the normal students learn how to be compassionate, tolerant and accepting of cultural differences. These are important characteristics that can be everyday reiterated with the inclusion of someone that is disabled into a normal class. I truly believe that disabled student can teach cultural awareness and acceptance to a student better than a teacher can because their inclusion invites the students to share in their personal experience. Teachers can only provide hypothetical situations, but a disabled student can provided a real like experience for students. I have learned so much about myself, social and cultural consciousness through the experiences that I have had in this class and through the time that I have spent with those that are disabled. I honestly believe that having an actual friendship with someone that is disabled is invaluable for someone that does not have a disability.

The Editor in Chief said...

Wow, well said!