Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Color outside the lines - purposely!

"Disability is not an indicator of health." Disability is also not something that can easily be placed inside a box, wrapped neatly, and tied with a bow. It's also impossible to generalize disability and put it into some defined program, be it for employment, for healthcare, for general living, etc. It's very individualized, even though people with disabilities may find it easier to relate to each other. But you see attempts to package it quite a bit.

So what's a better way to proceed? I think, rather than trying to fit the round peg in the square hole, we learn another concept - that it's ok to color outside the lines. A sermon I heard on "coloring outside the lines" noted how kids at first are encouraged to color wherever, but are eventually taught to color within lines, and according to certain rules. This can be confining. But we can throw those rules out. I'm not a big fan of rules, as they can be too confining.

Disability inclusion in the workplace often "lives" in the land of Human Resources. There people explore ways to address the needs and concerns of those with disabilities who work. People work at workplace inclusion; work on promotion of those with disabilities; know this population is an underleveraged talent pool just yearning to move forward. Most importantly this area must think of talking and listening to those who have disabilities. That is where coloring outside the lines can occur - to listen to that distinct voice of those who live with disabilities each day. I have surprised numerous people by telling them that asking for an accommodation is one of the most emotionally difficult things a person with a disability might have to do, and the person asking may have no idea what they need. I've been there but was lucky to have friends pointing me in the right direction, for both emotional support and to help me determine what I needed. Many people aren't so lucky.

Disability inclusion can "live" in the land of healthcare coordination. But this area wants to explore disability via diagnoses as a means of identification - see the first sentence of this entry - the quote. Think more of coloring outside the lines. Like in the workforce, ways can be explored to address the needs and concerns of those with disabilities who seek medical care. Work on inclusion in the decision-making process; talk with those who have disabilities in the context of care; consider the whole person rather than a diagnosis or condition. Once someone assumed I was off-balance/dizzy due to MS rather than a procedure. I left and fell getting into my car. I tell people not to assume something is related to a diagnosis. Ask the person - it might help them think through a situation.

In whatever context, consider that everyone with a disability is different. I may want to be pushed up a steep hill while my friend may not. On the other hand, I may want to get my wheelchair out of my car myself while my friend may not. On the other hand, if we get a sudden spring snowstorm like tonight, I may have no desire to put my wheelchair back in the car (tonight I finally learned and flagged someone to help, rather than get caught in a dangerous scenario as is my norm).

I do not know all the needs of those who have different disabilities, or even the same, as mine. And just as everyone is different in general, each day, hour, second, or moment is different as well. Everyone has good and bad days. This is amplified for many people with disabilities.

Mostly, I think we, people with disabilities, want out voices heard - not solutions made without asking us. If there's a group setting, and someone raises a question on disability, is someone with a disability is sitting right there? What do they think.? Ask. Always (unless you know they don't want to be asked). It's pretty interesting to watch people jump into something, sitting next to someone who does know a bit more - it happens a lot. Of course everyone should be included, but that includes those both those with and without disabilities.

And I think people with disabilities want to know that people care, not that we're considered a pain. Often I hear the phrase of "dealing with" certain people and our "issues." We need to get past that. Jesus didn't deal with us. Jesus accepted us when others didn't. Jesus accepted so many who weren't accepted by anyone else. I think we could all learn a lot from this. Love each other; embrace disability; see potential; give acceptance. Open it beyond disability - there's so much else out there. Color outside the lines.

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