That period formed my view of people with disabilities as people just like me, with the same human longings and weaknesses; the same capacity for goodness or "Grinchiness;" greed or generosity; and any other virtue or vice.
Since then, I've worked in a system where staff support people in group homes, or their own apartments. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the equal rights and freedoms of people with disabilities, but I've often struggled with the knowledge that they and people without disabilities in the community experience very different realities in day to day life.
But change is happening as our agency and everyone in it, work towards our Vision Statement:
People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.One important source of experiencing value and respect is education. Without it any people group is limited and vulnerable. With it they are equipped and empowered to exercise their rights and freedoms.
Advocates Against Abuse-AAA is one important and exciting educational initiative underway in many agencies, including ours.
While there will be staff helpers, the trainers being recruited are people with disabilities, who will train their peers on protection from, and the reporting of, abuse.
On Friday morning there was a buzz in the air surrounding my office, which is downstairs in a group home. The job posting for trainers had been printed off for someone who seemed like a natural for the role, but one of her housemates had seen it. He bustled downstairs, rapped at my office door and waved the job posting at me, wanting to know more. I explained and he listened. He'd already signed his name on the line at the bottom saying he wanted to be a trainer. I asked if he'd like me to fax it to the person it needed to go to; he nodded.
I looked at the list of qualities required for the trainers and on the fax cover sheet I gave him a reference. Later in the day he came down to my office again, and I gave him the fax cover sheet, stapled to the job description. I read the lines I'd written about him, including the words, "He is a natural leader." He nodded his head, not with any pride or gratitude, but just at the truth of the words. Moments like that fill my cup.
Later that day as I was about to leave for home, I chatted with a staff member finishing off a task in the next office. She told me how the course she's been running on Friendship Skills was going; how she's used it to help people figure out the difference between strangers, acquaintances and friends. And then she laughed at herself as she told me about a recent incident where she found herself revealing too much personal information to a stranger at the gym and wondering why she just did that.
Education teaches us all.