Facilitating Belonging in those with Developmental “Disabilities”
Inclusion begins with how we feel and see others
I was sipping a cup of tea at the Prince George airport while awaiting my flight, and a memorable experience crossed my path. A TV was showing an exciting horse race which no one was paying attention to. I enjoy watching horse racing. As much as I struggle with the way the horses are treated, I find the call “down the stretch” to be one of the most exhilarating sporting spectacles. While it appeared everyone was more interested in their beverage and conversations, one young man was clearly intoxicated by the race. He ran to the TV, stood in front of it, jumping up and down, cheering the horses, completely lost in the event. He was so enamored by it, so engaged, just beaming! Watching him suddenly became far more enjoyable than the race. His happiness filled the room, while everyone else sat quietly self-contained in their seats.
Back at Vancouver airport at the luggage carousel, he crossed my TV viewing sight line again, this time bouncing up and down to the football game. His father, looking miserable, kept telling him to tone it down. Looking around, most people shared the same energy as the father – tired, stressed, quiet, straight faced – while the young man was the complete opposite – joyful. I shared in his joy and silently egged it on, while simultaneously becoming aware of how much everyone else stood in stark contrast.
This young man has what we call a developmental “disability”, but at that moment I saw him as the most enlightened being in the room.
I don’t consider myself to be an expert in developmental disabilities. I appreciate the patience and care needed to support them to live in our demanding world. I have learned a thing or two from leading many workshops for community living, and by having participants with developmental “disabilities” in my workshops. What has stood out to me is how people with developmental disabilities excel in areas that the rest of us don’t. They contribute incredible wisdom to my workshops. Often the most insightful comments come from them. They have the capacity to live in the moment, find joy in the little things and share a smile while everyone else is lost in the busyness of life.
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” ~ Albert Einstein
They may not have the same strengths as we do in logical, linear, left brain skills. But perhaps, in the process, they are more tapped into their intuitive right brain. They are more able to reap the benefits of present moment joy and wisdom processed through the intuitive mind, while the rest of us are continuously distracted by the endless demands of our busy bee, demanding left brain.
“My left brain is doing the best job it can with the information it has to work with. I need to remember, however, that there are enormous gaps between what I know and what I think I know.” ~ Jill Bolte Taylor
Society has put a huge emphasis on logic and reasoning as the measure of a man. We have only dipped our toe into the bottomless ocean of our intuitive, creative Self that lies infinitely beyond the capacity of the logical mind to measure. Inasmuch as we we’ve identified with logic and the need for things to make rational sense, we’ve subsequently evaluated others by that same standard and created limits in how we perceive and treat others, namely people with “disabilities”.
A cultural shift has taken place over the years in how we include and engage people with “disabilities”. Institutions are fading out, and so too are our labels such as “mentally retarded” and even the word “disabilities”. And support workers in Community Living are shifting away from traditional caretaking and moving towards inspiring citizenship and belonging through supportive decision making. They are moving away from caring for the people they support, and towards caring with. An example of this is the movement towards person directed planning, where instead of the support worker directing the plan, it is a co-created experience. And government is passing legislation to encourage these changes. An example of this is the new law created by the Ontario Ministry of Community & Social Services (read The Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act).
The cultural shift is dependent on evolving external working systems such as laws and organizational support structures, as well as growth in our own internal systems, specifically our communication and awareness skills.
Old: Supporting exclusively from My World to Their’s
New: Supporting from Our World
Old: Seeing others as broken, lacking, not capable
New: Seeing others as naturally creative, resourceful and whole
Old: Maintaining control of the agenda
New: Co-creating the agenda
Old: Being the expert
New: Supportive decision making by seeing others as the expert
New: Being curious, drawing out their feelings and insights
Old: Working within the “right way” of doing things, according to established systems and past experiences
New: Opening to new possibilities, taking risks, getting messy, scribbling outside the lines
To move from the old to the new, we need to:
Let go of control:
- balance our expertise with their expertise, and adapt to their agenda
- be comfortable with not knowing, which is not easy for humans
- create space and time for them so we can give their ideas/opinions a chance. Busyness breeds routine and control. Being curious, listening to others’ needs and incorporating them takes time. It appears to be quicker and easier to say Yes But (Yes to My World, But to Their World) in the short term…but in the long term it serves everyone to practice the Spirit of Yes And
Reflect on our own “disabilities”:
- Where are we inflexible, unable to slow down, connect, breathe?
- Where are we attached to our agendas in life?
- Where are we doing things today, simply because it is what has always been done, without conscious awareness and evaluation of our choices?
- Where are we identified with the need to take care of others, to be responsible, at the cost of self-care, personal and professional fulfillment, and treating others as capable?
- What do we have a hard time being with? Messiness, spontaneity, uncertainty, conflict? If we avoid these things, how does this impact the choices we make?
- Where can we grow in our listening skills? How well are we listening to their needs?
- Where are we limited in our view of others and their creative potential? If we see others that way, it is only a mirror for our view of our Self.
“We are each angels but with one wing, and only by embracing each other can we fly.”
~ Luciano De Crescenzo
See people with “disabilities” as teachers revealing our own “disabilities”:
Who is the teacher and who is the student? We live in a hall of mirrors and each interaction contains opportunities for spiritual growth for both parties. For so long we have overlooked our own “disabilities” and displaced them onto others. We do this in all our relationships. The spirit of inclusion begins with how we see others. It begins with seeing them as equal, and as having gifts and wisdom that are underdeveloped or underutilized in ourselves. And it is recognizing their underdeveloped capacity as being a wise gift meant to catalyze our own spiritual growth. Their “disabilities” suddenly become the perfect abilities necessary to move us up to the next rung of our evolution.
The model of support therefore expands to be more reciprocal, whereby we not only care for and support them in their growth, but we also acknowledge and accept their gift in our growth. The illusion of separation and hierarchy between My World and Their World dissolves, and what is left is Our World and the deep spirit of inclusion that in essence is a feeling of belonging, equality and interconnectedness.
At this point, the label “disability” becomes a distant memory.
* * *
Inspiring Inclusion & Engagement – Facilitating Citizenship & Belonging